The NFT market was once called a playground for the ultra-rich. Now, as the world awakens to the real potential of NFTs, it’s turning into a battleground for change-makers.
On May 13, political artist-activist Kahled Jarrar sold jars of sand from Ramallah in Palestine as NFTs on the same day that the Israel Defense Forces began airstrikes which marked the worst outbreak of violence in the region in the last 10 years. Titled If I Don’t Steal Your Land Someone Else Will, the NFT represents a symbolic reclamation of Palestinian land, and draws attention to the ecological crisis leading to the accelerating desertification of Palestine.
As quoted in an The Art Newspaper, Khaled said that “I’m selling little plots of Palestine that, for the first time in the last century, unequivocally belongs to whomever buys it. Non-fungible.”
This inspired play on the parallels between NFTs and Palestinian land makes for a powerful political statement, but the promise of NFTs as a tool for activism is more than just conceptual. Let’s take a look at how digital revolutionaries around the world are leveraging the transformative power of NFT technology to drive positive change.
The Story of Pussy Riot
In 2012, members of the feminist protest punk rock and performance art group Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in a prison colony for performing their song Punk Prayer in an orthodox christian cathedral. Since their founding in 2011, such guerilla-style performances had been used by the group to draw attention to issues of feminism and LGBTQ rights, and to protest against Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian policies.
In their song Punk Prayer, they implored the virgin mary to become a feminist and throw out Vladimir Putin, an act categorized by the judge as “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”. They were sentenced to 2 years in a brutal penal colony and were subjected to repeated arrests and beatings even after their release.
Despite their trials, Pussy Riot is continuing to fight systemic oppression globally. In September this year, they released an NFT (picture above) of their prison sentencing document, with various doodles and a drawing of the Virgin Mary in the shape of a vagina over it. Proceeds from the NFT titled Virgin Mary, Please Become A Feminist, will go towards supporting Pussy Riot’s future activism projects, victims of domestic violence, and political prisoners in Russia.
Pussy Riot’s founding member Nadya Tolokonnikova told the Art Newspaper that she sees real potential in the decentralization enabled by NFTs.
“If you are consistent with your work, you will find your family. In that sense, it reminds me of the activist community,” she says. “For a few years, I was living mostly within the music and entertainment industry, but I feel like that’s stagnating, it’s much more about your personal game. Now I’d love to be around people who want to change the world and be part of something bigger than that.”
NFTs are a Powerful Tool for Activism
NFTs are truly a game-changer for artist-activists. Political art makes a powerful statement on its own, but the easy monetization and decentralisation enabled by NFTs makes it an ideal medium for political and social activism. In countries with totalitarian regimes, the decentralized, global NFT market provides an avenue for activists to sidestep political barriers and geographical boundaries, and raise awareness through art while simultaneously making money to fund their activities.
These benefits also apply in less hostile political environments. In April 2021, American whistleblower and President of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Edward Snowden, auctioned off an NFT titled Stay Free which raised over $5.4 million. He used Aerial to offset carbon emissions from the transaction, and the rest was donated to FPF to further their cause of press freedom.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has also turned to NFTs as a tool for activism. Earlier this year, BLM hosted an NFT digital art fair featuring the work of Black creators. They chose the NFT market because it is a forum free of censorship and bureaucracy, and it provides an alternative to the traditional art market, which has been largely exclusionary of contributions by Black people in society.
In a world where power structures and social inequities are so deeply entrenched, the NFT space represents a new frontier for activists, where they can have the freedom, the power, and the reach they need to effectively lead social change.
Harnessing The Power Of NFTs For Positive Impact
Decentralization means a redistribution of power, but also a redistribution of responsibility. This means that active participation is necessary, not just on the part of change leaders, but on the part of supporters as well. In our article Collectors 101: The Real Benefits of NFT Ownership, we explain how NFTs can incorporate reward systems for holders and strengthen digital communities.
Here is where we get to see the true beauty of the technology – it doesn’t merely allow participation, but rather, actively drives it. NFT collectible avatar projects are a prime example of this. They’ve proven that collectors are willing to spend significant time and money on projects that resonate with them and provide good incentives for participation.
This is why artist-activists are uniquely positioned to harness the transformational power of NFTs: they have the skills to create art that is emotionally charged and relatable for audiences, but also provocative enough to demand attention. The causes they champion impel participation. Now add the enhanced engagement enabled by NFTs and you’ve got a killer combination.
If used to their fullest extent, NFTs could vastly improve the mechanics of fundraising and supporter mobilization for socio-political activism.
As a writer and an advocate of NFTs, there’s a phrase I often have to stop myself from using because it sounds too cliche. But in this context, I believe it’s the only appropriate way to close this article:
NFTs are going to change the world.