A chat with foremost crypto artist, Osinachi on passion, selling work at London’s Christie’s Auction House

Temitope Akintade
“Before Christie’s, if you want to measure success by money, I was already selling my artwork for huge amounts of money…”
A chat with foremost crypto artist, Osinachi on passion, selling work at London's Christie’s Auction House

Born Prince Jacon Osinachi Igwe, Osinachi is a renowned digital artist who became the first crypto-artist from Africa to have his work sold by Christie’s Auction House in London last year.

In an interview with Technext, the 30-year-old recounts his journey before recognition, the experiences after Christie’s, the benefits of the concept of NFTs and how he is planning to help upcoming creators upscale their careers in the NFT space. 

The formative years 

Osinachi grew up and had his primary/secondary education in Aba, the Southeastern part of Nigeria. He recalls how being an avid reader and ‘cyber cafe’ user as a kid helped refine his writing skills. 

“My dad took me to the cafe where I opened my first email and I felt this was an opportunity to show the world what I had been writing. So I started using Microsoft word, to save things and send them out to magazines and at some point I got bored.  I started drawing pieces, logos and some abstract stuff.” 

That was how his interest in art started. 

The encounter with NFT

After finishing NYSC in 2015, Osinachi got an appointment in his Alma mater, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka(UNN) as an Academic Liberian. He however still found time to continue doing his art. 

A chat with foremost crypto artist, Osinachi on passion, selling work at London's Christie’s Auction House

His first encounter with arts on the blockchain or what is now known as NFTs was in late 2017 when he saw an article written about the subject through a google alert for visual and digital arts that he had set up. 

“I was going through the alerts and I saw something about arts on the blockchain and I felt this was something I’m interested in. I reached out to the guy that the article was written about. It turned out that they were just starting out and were experimenting with this thing called arts on the blockchain which is crypto arts or NFTs that we know today.”

Osinachi says he eventually entered the NFT space in 2018. He started doing his thing despite the fact that he didn’t know he would become this big. 

“I was still working full-time as an Academic Liberian. I just felt that since people were not paying so much attention to me as an artist because my work is digital, maybe this is where I could reach out to more people and probably be able to buy snacks from the sales/proceeds of my work.”

Osinachi turned out to be the first African in the space. There are concerns in the traditional art space around digital arts, which makes them place digital arts below traditionally made arts. These concerns revolve around provenance, proof of scarcity and some other issues. 

Read also: Anthony Azekwoh: The digital artist with a story to tell

For instance, if an artwork is bought from a particular artist who makes his work traditionally, you can be certain that through the certificate of authenticity that his work is one of one. That it is unique, no other copy is anywhere. Osinachi says:

“These and some other concerns are what blockchain addresses when it comes to arts, and so with the records on the blockchain, an individual who wants to collect an artwork can verify these things. You’re sure that the work you’re buying comes from Osinachi, you’re sure that there’s only one copy of that particular artwork. These are things that the blockchain address that really piques my interest.”

Asides from that, there is more of an underground community of digital artists from across the world who are doing this crypto art thing, according to Osinachi. He says they share the same ideals. 

“We were looking for a more decentralised world because of our experiences in the real world where gatekeepers are just holding on to the keys and allowing only those who they want through those gates. And we felt this could be our space, we could through what we were doing create a more decentralised world where there would be more opportunities and help ourselves.”

Osinachi artworks at Christie’s Auction House

Osinachi’s artwork was sold as an NFT at the Christie’s Auction House, London in October 2021, becoming the first African artist to achieve that feat. Although wide applause and recognition followed the landmark accomplishment, he says it was not the turning point of his career. 

One of Osinachi’s artworks

“I would say it was probably the biggest collaboration I’ve ever had in my career. It wasn’t the turning point. Before Christie’s, if you want to measure success by money, I was already selling my artwork for huge amounts of money. So before Christie’s, all those things were happening.”

Osinachi however remarks that what Christie’s did for him was even more important than money. It kind of validated what he was doing in the NFT space because:

Here we are collaborating with Christie’s, an auction house that is so big in the traditional art world and they are now interested in the digital art space. So a kind of validation for NFTs in one way. And another way it gave me an opportunity in London, or Europe as a whole to educate people about what NFTs are because there were misconceptions about NFTs – what are they talking about… you can see it but you can’t touch it.. what do they mean by that … What sort of art is that ..- Some people had this idea that NFTs were just Cryptopunks, Crypto Kitties, Bored Apes and those collectables that are more popular.”

His appearance at the exhibition at Somerset House was an eye-opening event for so many people who now saw that NFTs could also be these beautiful artworks that have some form of intellectual discussion around them, not just collectables that they see most of the media put out there as NFTs. 

“Yeah so validation and a form of educational opportunity, and maybe some level of publicity, those are the things the Christie’s collaboration did for me.”

About African creators in the NFT space 

With the influx of artists into the world of NFTs, and with the verifiable successes of creators like Osinachi and others, it is said that art and blockchain is the perfect avenue for African creators to harness their talents.

But Osinachi begs to differ:

“I can’t say it’s only NFTs, it can also be the old art world that we know. It doesn’t have to be one way, NFTs are there and there are other ways that African artists can succeed. Even a combination of traditional and what we have now in the NFT space. Digital artists like myself can decide to enter the NFT space and do their thing, they can also decide to go with a gallery. So they can also find success in doing all of these. NFT sort of provided a larger option for artists, but it’s not only NFTs through which African artists can succeed.”

He further says there is a high probability that all creative artists can take charge of their art in the space.

If it’s about finding success, he is not sure about that because of how the space is at the moment. 

“We have to note that we are still early in the NFT space. From 2017 up until now, it’s still very early, we don’t know what the space is going to be in the next five years. We can only work and say this is what we want, this is how we want it to be because we want people to come in and succeed. We want to break down all these barriers that are hindering artists from making it. So that’s it.”

Is NFTs hype going down?

Although NFT is touted to be the future of ownership arts, it is still being said that the concept is a fad, and the hype is going to die soon. Earlier this week, Technext did an analysis which shows that global NFT trading volume is down 97% from the peak it attained in January this year.

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Sometimes last year or the last two years people were saying it’s a bubble and the bubble is going to stop right? The market is the way it is now because it’s only normal for the market to go up, reach a certain peak then come down. As I said we’re still early in the space so it’s still forming itself organically. The space has gone through a number of phases and more phases to come. So NFTs are here to stay, they are not going anywhere.”

Related post: Declining hype? NFTs trading volume has declined by 97% in 2022

Osinachi wants artists like himself, corporate entities, organisations and companies to find a way to utilise NFTs to their own benefit and also reach out to their target audience just like he has done in his practice. 

“So when ideas like these come in, people are going to adopt these ideas, refine them and make them even better, and experiment with them. And this is what we will see probably in the next five or seven years in the NFT space. Until the space forms itself organically into how it should be, and then twenty years from now we will see that when we talk about the NFT space, we will see that that is exactly how it is.”

What upcoming artists should do 

Amidst other things, Osinachi prioritises authenticity. 

“I mean what the NFT space offers you is an opportunity to own your arts, to be true to your arts, true to yourself and be authentic in whatever you’re doing because you’re not trying to pander to some gallery that will tell you this is what is selling now. And, you are not trying to pander to a collector who will say I want you to make arts that will match the cushion in my sitting room. So you are going to make art from your heart and that’s what you should focus on.”

A chat with foremost crypto artist, Osinachi on passion, selling work at London's Christie’s Auction House

He says there’s hype about the money but when people pay too much attention to the money, they tend to lose the exact substance the technology offers. 

“So don’t focus on the money, focus on making authentic arts, arts that are really true to yourself and then you put it out there, and people are going to love you for your authenticity not because you’re making arts in the style of Osinachi because Osinachi sells. That would mean that we won’t move forward in the space, we’re going to be in a space that is stagnant creatively because people would probably just be recycling ideas.

Be true to your art, the power is in your hands, go on Twitter and engage with the community. Also across the world, it’s a decentralised space. Join discord servers, hopefully, people are going to see your work as being authentic and the world cares so much about authenticity. When you enter a certain space, it’s that authenticity that sets you apart from every other person. And when everybody is authentic, we have a more colourful, lively and beautiful space.”

This is one of the things I want to keep doing in the course of my career to shed light on other African artists in the space to show that it’s not just two or three or five African artists who are making true arts in the NFT space. There are other African artists who are worth attention in the space”, Osinachi concludes.

Note: For upcoming art creators who are looking for a breakthrough in the NFT space, Osinachi has an accelerator program running in collaboration with MakersPlace which seeks to spotlight African artists. They are encouraged to apply at osinachiafricahere.com

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