What is a non-fungible token (NFT)? An NFT is a unit of data stored on a blockchain. Blockchains are most famous as the ledger that stores Bitcoin, but unlike Bitcoin, NFTs are unique. You can’t exchange one NFT for another like you can with a Bitcoin. NFTs represent a variety of files, such as videos, pieces of audio, and photos. While anyone can get a copy of an NFT, an NFT provides proof of ownership. It’s the difference between owning a print of a Picasso painting versus the original. Many artists mint and sell their social-justice themed works as NFTs. They often give the proceeds or part of their proceeds to a social justice organization. Here are five examples:
No Justice No Peace – The DADA Art Collective
The DADA Art Collective, which is a loosely affiliated group of digital visual artists, partnered with OpenSea, Mintbase, and Arweave for an NFT project. Opensea and Mintbase are both NFT marketplaces, while Arweave is a file-storage blockchain. With Dennison Bertram, founder of the DappHero project, DADA published “No Justice No Peace” in the summer of 2020. 10 artists contributed to the piece, which centers on police brutality and justice. Each wallet on the blockchain is named after a victim of police violence. Within the wallet, you can find the involved officers, the circumstances of the victim’s death, and case status. The wallets’ private keys were destroyed, so no one controls the tokens. The wallets can’t be modified or taken down, so the details about these crimes will live on the blockchain forever.
I Can’t Breathe – David Bianchi
Bianchi’s piece is the first spoken word film to be minted as an NFT. When the actor/poet first heard about NFTs, he knew he wanted to be involved. It was tricky because most NFTs are smaller images, not large film files. Bianchi found a platform called Emphira that allowed him to mint his film and show it to collectors before they decided to purchase it or not. He minted “I Can’t Breathe,” a five-minute film of his poetry reading set against photos and videos of protests and police brutality. He raised over $10,000 from the NFT sale and gave the proceeds to the George Floyd Memorial Foundation. You can view the film on David Bianchi’s YouTube page.
Justice Reigns Supreme – Deblo x Diplo
The Legaler Aid charity recently held an auction to raise funds for those affected by the Covid-19 crisis. The non-profit initiative of Leagler.com, Legalier Aid is all about innovation in online products and services that help people access legal help. “Justice Reigns Supreme” features Ruth Bader Ginsburg in front of the Supreme Court, gavel in hand, with a superhero suit beneath her black robes. Jose Delbo – an iconic comic artist who has drawn superheroes like Batman and Superman – drew RBG. He collaborated with Vuho 3D animators and professional comic colorist Ross Campbell. Diplo, the famous DJ, producer, and recording artist, was also involved in the NFT’s creation. The funds are earmarked for people facing eviction.
8 Minutes 46 Seconds (In Memoriam George Floyd) – Matt Kane
When Matt Kane began selling his art, he sold oil painting. He then learned how to create software that could produce art, but when he started making crypto art in 2019, his NFTS sold for far less than his traditional paintings. That quickly changed. In 2020, he sold a record-setting NFT for over $100,000. That same year, he created a piece to memorialize George Floyd. It resembles a dollar bill but features George Floyd on one side and Medaria Arrandono (the Minneapolis police chief) on the other. At a press conference, the chief said “Silence and inaction, you’re complicit,” in reference to the officers fired for their involvement in the murder, The 4K animated GIF is part of Kane’s larger series where he examines the people and messages on fiat currency. Proceeds of the initial sale will go to Campaign Zero.
In the Club: #StopAsianHate – Drue Kataoka
Kataoka is an established artist whose work has been featured in 30 countries and the International Space Station. On May 13, 2021, she released her first NFT in support of Asian-American causes. The auction began on Nifty Gateway, a digital art marketplace, with a launch party on Clubhouse. Clubhouse featured Kataoka as its 8th “icon,” or face of the app. For the auction, Nifty Gateway waived its usual fees and sent all proceeds to the Catalyst Fund for Justice. Kataoka’s piece, entitled “In the Club: #StopAsianHate,” found inspiration in the activist communities on Clubhouse. The minute-long work features an image of a Clubhouse room. User photos are removed, leaving only user names, while flowing shapes (which Kataoka made in virtual reality) swirl in the gold background. Protest chants play, along with a recording of Kataoka’s heartbeat. The sounds eventually fade into wind, which symbolizes air or qi (breath), a life force in many Asian cultures. You can see a clip from the piece on Kataoka’s Twitter announcement.