For every Beeple, Bored Ape and insider trading scheme, there are NFT which use maths for good. One good news story that utilises the subversive power of the decentralised tokens comes from the Congolese Plantation Workers Art League.
The Congolese artists group have coined their first NFT of the Balot sculpture, creating 300 tokens that will be sold to raise money for their local community. The money raised will allow the community to buy back land that was previously owned by the multinational conglomerate Unilever.
Where other NFTs have brought out the worst capitalistic tendencies of the art market, the Congolese Plantation Workers Art League have harnessed the community building capacity of the blockchain; subverting colonial institutions and empowering local community action.
The choice of the Balot sculpture is emblematic of Congolese Plantation Workers Art League’s focus on the local community over Western institutions. The statue depicts Maximilien Balot, a Belgian colonialist who was beheading during the anti-colonial revolt in the 1930s.
The sculpture was originally created to protect the community from the violence of colonialism, but is now owned by the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. Although the sculpture has been toured internationally, and recently featured in an exhibition in the Rietberg Museum in Zurich titled Congo Fiction, the sculpture has never found its way back to its Congolese community. And all loan requests for the sculpture by the Congolese Plantation Workers Art League have been denied.
Instead, in creating an NFT of the Balot sculpture, the Congolese Plantation Workers Art League have created a radical model of restitution. By completely sidestepping the museum as a colonial institution, the blockchain becomes a tool for decolonisation.
The Congolese Plantation Art Workers League highlight how “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”.
With such a focus on community, and the decentralising power of the blockchain, NFTs do offer the potential for radical solutions to contemporary power imbalances. Although it remains to be seen if anyone can come up with a better word than ‘phygital'.
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