NFTs have been the talk of the art world in recent years. Yet much still remains to be explored, especially from African creators. What’s the longevity of the blockchain, and of NFTs in particular? And how do artists from and working on the African continent feature in the production and trading of NFTs?
It is in response to these questions that Jepchumba, founder of the African Digital Art platform, founded Nandi, a marketplace for trading NFTs that prioritizes artists from Africa and its Diaspora. The platform attempts to level the playing field while paying attention to the deeper fundamentals of cultural production, including ownership, preservation, and representation.
Contemporary And: What is Nandi and what is the principle behind the name?
Jepchumba: Nandi is an African cultural marketplace for the world, built in Africa. In making the token, we wanted a short name that was easy to remember. I am from the Nandi people of Kenya, and was looking for something that would root me in time. Nandi also has place in South African history as it is the name of Shaka Zulu’s mother. Furthermore, there are also a Nandi Hills in India and Sri Lanka, both of which are civilizations with long histories. It is a word that the world has heard.
C&: You posit that NFTs are a rare field for Africans and Black communities worldwide to create Black prosperity and celebrate Black cultural heritage.
J: It feels like the world is gearing up towards this critical point where Africa is becoming the center point, and not in the trite ways that we’re often described. So, I have seriously pondered what opportunities exist in the NFT space that would allow an economic system that directly relates to Black creators, to Black culture, and its value. Embedded in NFTs is an understanding of royalties, licensing, and intellectual property as the core components for how creative goods are traded and distributed online and offline.
Jepchumba, Practicing some digital painting, 2021. Courtesy the artist.
C&: What do you think are the barriers to entry, thinking about the restricted and non-connected banking systems of the continent?
J: Most banking systems in Africa are pegged to foreign currencies, but now we’re in a time where anyone can create currency – so why join OpenSea (one of the largest NFT marketplaces) when we could use this opportunity to build internal systems to repair the gaps in our economy? I think we’re already doing that informally when we use mobile digital transactions, so why don’t we double down and exercise that thinking in the NFT space?
C&: What do you think African artists should wake up to where this realm is concerned?
J: I think they should not miss this moment. There is something about African culture that is tied in to technology, but because technology is centered outside of Africa, we always miss it. We will never discover our own potential if we always run to support what is out there.
C&: How does the world of NFTs differ from the more tangible and traditional art world?
J: It removes the abstraction of the middleperson, removing the legitimacy often held by the gatekeeper who sells your work. I don’t think that that position will matter so much in the future as it has mattered historically.
C&: What is next for Nandi?
J: We’re launching at the Africa Next Conference in Lagos (27 February to 4 March 2022). There we will see art, tech, and commerce converge. It is important for us to launch there because we’re quite bold on the fact that we’re African first, although the team is worldwide – made from the African diasporic brain-bank. We will also be hosting demo days, meeting our collectors, and revealing our network of partners.
Russel Hlongwane is a cultural producer and creative industries consultant based in Durban. His work obsesses over tensions in Heritage/Modernity and Culture/Tradition as they apply to Black life. His said practice includes cultural research, creative production, design, and curatorship.