Last year, Yahoo partnered with Disrupt Space, a Black Art gallery and artist agency based in Brixton Market. Eight artists were chosen to create works using NFT technology, bypass the usual structures of the hierarchical art world, and trade their work at sky's-the-limit prices.
NFTs, or Non-Fungible Tokens, is a new format for digital art, which uses the blockchain currency system as a 'record of origin', and creates works with genuine real-world value, which can perpetually be traced back to the originator. This means the artist can always be identified as the creator, and the work can't be modified, which helps to set and preserve its value.
Via meetings and workshops, the Yahoo Creative Studios team enabled the artists to digitise their chosen pieces, and showed them how to maximise the potential of each piece - scope exists for embedded 'doors; leading to further information, even added soundtracks or narration, allowing viewers to explore far beyond the visual.
Disrupt Space represents artists with a wide range of interests in painting, sculpture, film, and photography.
"By nature, our position in the heart of a gentrified marketplace is disruptive," says Paul Reid, founder of the agency. "We're about introducing sustainable culture into spaces where you might not usually find it. The NFT space is an exciting opportunity to take the artists' work further, and we're excited to show the world what they come up with."
Now, the project is well underway. Artist Gus Brooks-Simpson (BKA) explains how he got involved - and how NFTs have advanced his art, which is inspired by the ancient world and religion, using symbols from nature.
"In 2019 I was doing my first solo exhibition in Shoreditch - on the last day, Paul Reid saw my work and said he'd be interested in having it in an exhibition. That was where I met the other members of Disrupt. and connected with the artists, the collective, we all saw something special in that and we progressed from there."
In 2020, Brooks-Simpson was stuck in Jamaica during lockdown, "unable to work in the usual way, but wanting to move forward. And in 2021, Disrupt Space started to develop a digital platform to showcase our work visually".
Gus was aware of NFTs. "But I was still learning," he says. "Then we heard Yahoo were interested in working with us and it felt like a good alignment."
The process has been fascinating but gradual, he explains. "It's such a vast, expansive world - blockchain, and the apps we use having new, integrated tech are known as web-free technology.
"It benefits us as artists because once you're put your art on the blockchain, in theory it's indestructible. The physical pieces we create are susceptible to damage, manipulation, degradation. But this method has a preservation element to it - not just the artwork, but what the artwork stands for. It can add extra dimensions to our work."
Benefits could include creating a piece that changes colour, or membership of a 'club' focussing on the artist's work.
Read more: Black Art, Stories, Voices
"I'm still very much dealing with tangible artwork," Brooks-Simpson explains, "but I like knowing there is another world which I can use to give my art more value, even if the work itself were to be destroyed."
He has now minted three pieces, one with Yahoo, and one has already sold for 0.4 Etherium - the digital currency works out at several hundred pounds.
He also enjoys the collective, community aspect of NFT art - "there's a very big emphasis on that, and we're seeing the power dynamic changing with institutions, with galleries - it's changing the way artists are treated.
"I don't think we've even touched the surface of what this whole space is going to do and mean for artists, and for the community as a whole."
Sekai Machache is a fellow artist represented by Disrupt Space, who was able to work with NFT technology. She is a Zimbabwean-Scottish visual artist and curator based in Glasgow, interested in relationships between spirituality, imagination and healing.
She says, "NFTs open scope for artists across media and with large scale project ideas to find a captive audience for their work - within and outwith the traditional art market. There is a global community of artists in the NFT space, and it is a very exciting new landscape to explore artistic expression," she adds.
"I will continue to promote my work across the NFT platforms I’m currently minted on, such as Superrare, Foundation and Opensea and to engage in community-focused dialogue with other artists."
Machache adds, "I think the introduction of smart contracts through the NFT space in which artists can add utility and receive royalties from secondary sales of their work opens opportunities for artists to become more financially independent and potentially fund projects through the NFT model.
"It is a great space for not only artists but entrepreneurs in general."
The tech might be relatively new, but already the value of these newly 'minted' artworks can be enormous. The highest-selling NFT so far, 'Everydays – the First 5000 Days' by Beeple, sold for $69million at Christie's.
Prior to this, Beeple had only ever sold a physical print for $100 – he's now among the top three most valuable living artists, with both the second and third highest-selling NFTs.
It may not happen quite that way for most - but for the Black artists who now have access to the NFT space, the new community-led way of making and selling art is already proving a game-changer.