Activism is not a word one typically associates with NFTs. Blockchain work may have continued art’s tradition of leveraging new technologies, generating hype through artificial scarcity, and questioning all that has come before, but it’s left the propensity for political protest largely offline.
One platform bringing activism to the blockchain is Artwrld, a project launched in early 2022 intent on collaborating with thoughtful creatives on provocative pieces. Its initial roster of signed artists suggested an intention to counter the NFT scene’s saccharine optimism with works of sociopolitical commentary. So far, it’s followed through.
First came Walid Raad’s “Festival of Gratitude,” a series of spinning birthday cakes dedicated to the 20th-century’s most notorious dictators, complete with sparklers, candles, and confetti. Now, it’s the turn of Turkish artist Ahmet Öğüt, whose “Monuments of the Disclosed” commemorates nine whistleblowers with their busts hovering over concrete pedestals.
“Ahmet has worked across a variety of media to imagine and put into place critical artworks of resistance and imagination,” Kerin Sulock, Director of Production, told Artnet News. “We thought he made for a perfect artist to work with.”
On December 15, the collection of 99 unique NFTs will mint publicly.
The NFTs are 3D monuments—designed in gold, silver, and bronze—with augmented reality functionality, meaning a few taps on a smartphone transports the whistleblowers into physical space. The digital sculptures purposely celebrate whistleblowers who have been overlooked by media, which means no Edward Snowden and no Julian Assange.
Those honored include Marlene Garcia-Esperat, a journalist murdered for exposing government corruption in the Philippines; Mona Hanna-Attisha, whose research revealed the crisis of water quality in Flint, Michigan; and Philip Saviano, a sexual abuse survivor who relentlessly pursued the blight of pedophilia in the Boston clergy.
“I wanted to create monuments that spoke to courageous acts of resistance,” Öğüt said. “The work they risked everything for was for the greater good and so these busts stand for more than themselves.”
Fittingly, as with all Artwrld projects, the proceeds of the sale serve more than the platform and the creator with 10 percent of primary sales split evenly between Protocinema, an organization that commissions site-aware art globally, and The National Whistleblower Center. They will also receive 0.5 percent of secondary sales.
This philanthropic aspect of Artwrld is one element distinguishing the platform from the host of others that have emerged over the past year in the hopes of bringing traditional collectors into the new frontier of digital art. With the shady realm of cryptocurrencies broadly being conflated with NFTs, Artwrld understands the importance of taking a gradual approach and ensuring the validity of all the projects it backs.
“I don’t want to paint the picture that this is smooth sailing. We’re taking a tortoise vs. the hare approach, and it can be difficult to get the traditional contemporary art collector to embrace this world,” Sulock said. “We firmly believe that the bones of blockchain are powerful, and that working with great artists over time and with consistency is our recipe for success.”
Having sold out nearly all of the NFTs from Artwrld’s first two collections, it seems to be a recipe that’s working.