A collective of Congolese artists created an NFT to fight colonialism
A Non Fungible Token inspired by a colonialist statue has become a reason for redemption for a small Congolese village
In the small town of Lusanga, members of the Congolese Plantation Workers Art League coined their first NFT.
For the Congolese group of artists, known by the acronym CATPC, it was a ceremonial event; the NFT of this particular sculpture is a turning point in the history of their village. The statue is currently at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and depicts Maximilien Balot, a Belgian colonialist who was assassinated during a revolt in the 1930s.
A statue that represents the dark spirit of colonialism, showing how it is still present in the nation. Despite several requests made to the Virginia Museum to borrow the work, it never made it to its hometown.
CATPC decided to remedy this non-agreement by creating its own NFT of the never-returned statue.
And just like in crypto communities, where projects want to support their community, all profits from the sale of the 300 tokens will go to the local people and will be used to buy back more arable land and fair compensation for the workers.
Digitization of the work
CATPC’s NFT is a subversive gesture by a group of artists who are tired of playing by the rules while being ignored. The Virginia museum’s rejection could be seen as part of a larger logjam of misunderstanding among solid Western institutions.
Tamasala, one of the artists in the collective, said that their blockchain appropriation of the object allowed them to get around the problem and finally have the sculpture and create our own world. “We have otherwise reappropriated what belongs to us intellectually, artistically, morally. We feel closer to the sculpture and proud to have what was already ours before.“
Colonialist art in the digital age
CATPC is not the first to use blockchain for a transgressive operation: in a talk last year, German artist Hito Steyerl denounced the power structures that now run much of the blockchain and announced that he had mined the Humboldt Forum and other German museums on blockchain.
Western collections have not yet created NFTs based on works in their repositories, but CATPC is concerned that this may soon become a reality.
Ever since blockchain technology took over the art world, many institutions have been vying to mint major works in their collections in NFT, but doing so risks putting all those colonial-era works that haven’t yet returned to the hands of their rightful owners out of business.
But Martens and CATPC still see an opportunity, at least for now. “Let these communities use this technology as well, not just the museums that rely on inequality and risk reinforcing it,” Tamasala said.
Photo Credits: Courtesy The Plantation and The Museum, CATPC and Renzo Martens, (2021). Courtesy the artists and KOW Berlin.