Before this year’s edition of Art X Lagos, 24-year-old visual artist, Nyahan Tachie-Menson, did not know what Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) were or how they worked.
Growing up in Accra, Ghana, Tachie-Menson discovered her passion for art early, thanks to her art collector mother; and provided with the liberty to paint, draw and sketch, she started creating art at 14 and performing as a visual artist at exhibitions.
In 2016, she tried her hands at digital graphics design before going on to study Integrated Designs at Parsons School of Design in New York.
Some years back, Tachie-Menson created Clapback, a magazine that centres young African women, and she has done women-centred work with the digital album cover art of musicians like Ghanaian singer, Amaarae, and Nigerian alté musician, Lady Donli. The attention she got from her project with the musicians caught the attention of the organisers of Art X Lagos, and she got onboarded to work on an NFT exhibition project titled, Reloading…
Reloading… is a project organised by Art X in partnership with digital art marketplace, SuperRare, in an effort to support the unprecedented rise of NFTs—a blockchain technology that allows artists to sell digital copies of their work.
The current revolution in NFTs in Africa was triggered by Nigerian artist, Osinachi, who sold NFTs worth $75,000 in just 10 days in March this year. Osinachi, who uses Microsoft Word as his canvas, was the first African artist to be featured at British auction house Christie’s 1-54 Art Fair, with his Different Shades of Water collection.
Tachie-Menson, now a visual artist, sculptor and digital artist, uses art to immerse her audience into an alternative reality called “Nyahan’s World”, where she reveals her fantasies, dreams, nightmares and visions. She created this space where she could exert control over her art because she wasn’t satisfied with creating only client-based work.
“I needed to create another space where I could govern. Although I still do client-based work, now I have this new space I can go into, do whatever I want, and feel refreshed.
“I do not see myself as an NFT artist”
NFTs allow digital items like images, music, tweets, and works of journalism to be traded on online marketplaces like Opensea.io and Niftygateway.com. Although traditional auction houses like Christie’s have made one of the biggest digital artwork sales so far—a JPG file, “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” by Beeple, sold for $69 million—there have been larger sales.
A piece from the earliest NFT collection, CryptoPunk, can be sold for as much as $532 million or 124,457 ethereum. In the third quarter of this year, the NFT market has exceeded $10 billion in transaction volume, revealed DappRadar, a company that tracks data on crypto-based applications.
This year marked a potential boom for NFTs in Africa after Osinachi, as South African artist Norman O’Flynn sold the country’s first-ever NFT for around $35,000 in March; and in April, Kenyan marathon runner Eliud Kipchoge sold highlights of his career as NFTs for $50,000.
Tachie-Menson three weeks ago minted her first NFT art and her artwork, “Fantastical Argos”, sold at the beginning of the week for 1ETH—$4,140. Yet she doesn’t see herself as an NFT artist.
“The direction in which I’m taking my work is not NFT-based. I didn’t start making art because of NFTs. I’ve been making art for a very long time,” she said while explaining that she makes sculptures too and would prefer to push her work in that direction.
Tracing her artistic career, Tachie-Menson said she started with traditional art styles like painting, drawing, etc., before going into digital animation and developing an interest in sculpting two years ago.
She didn’t have any intention of getting into NFTs, but when Curatorial Associate at Art X Lagos, Maurice Chapot, reached out to her to join Art X’s inaugural NFT project, she agreed because she also wanted to try out something new.
She said that Art X created a mentorship relationship where all the artists were given resources and guidance to mint their NFTs.
Artist not merchant
Tachie-Menson believes that NFTs are interesting but struggles to understand what there is to gain in the technology other than money. She went further to say that she prefers to only work as an artist and not a merchant or product maker.
“Being an artist, for me, is not based on being able to sell a piece. Way before I knew what an exhibition was, I’ve been creating. I’ve had the desire to create, and it gives me joy and makes me happy. It does something for me, it does something for the people around me.”
“Fantastical Argos”, Tachie-Menson’s auctioned piece, is a digital 3D version of a physical artwork she’d made with clay. To transport her audience to a fantastical reality, she decided to use 3D instead of a picture—which she called “boring”.
Her NFT art was inspired by Argos, the Greek demigod with a thousand eyes. Tachie-Menson loves using eyes in her work. By giving human characteristics to inanimate objects, her work comes alive.
“I use a lot of eyes in my work. One of my aims is to create objects that feel like they are alive, feel like they can move, and have their own agency.”
She took a picture of a sculpture she had made with clay, before calling on a senior from high school, Kwab, to help her model it in 3D. Explaining that she wanted viewers to have a complete view of the image, Tachie-Menson took the sculpture back home and added multiple colours to it, which she believes made the art more beautiful. “I love colours. Multiple colours make me very happy. They give me joy and hope, and it’s just very playful.”
A desire to make inclusive art
Going forward, Tachie-Menson said she wants to offer a physical experience of her art in her own way. She wants to do this through installations and experiential work that people can interact with directly via touch, smell, sight, and engagement.
She believes that even at art fairs, art is mystified, and she hopes to create art that even people not very versed in art would be interested in.