Crypto Art for Rebels
Learn the story behind the artwork “Rebel” that is on the cover of our Africa issue. The artist Godswill Utong gives us hints about his country, Nigeria, and the emerging NFT scene.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a banker and photographer/digital artist from Nigeria. My primary job is in the banking industry. I started photography in 2016 as a way to escape the drudgery and monotony of a 9-5 job (more like 8-8 for the bank I worked for initially). It started as a hobby. I’d take pictures over the weekend, then spend the nights after work editing them.
What are you chasing in your photography and art?
This is a great question, and one I’m constantly asking myself. The truth is, there isn’t one single coherent answer to it. The simplest answer is: I just enjoy creating. I enjoy seeing the ideas in my head come to life. And I think that is a good thing. My photographs and artworks cut across different genres, and are a testament to how much I enjoy exploring. My main goal is to become very good in my photography and art journey and become an established name, first within Nigeria, but eventually, internationally.
CELEBRATING THE BLACK SHEEP
Your latest work REBEL is an amazing digital artwork, celebrating “the black sheep” in societies. What role do you think the black sheep play in the African context today? Especially in your country, Nigeria?
This photograph was inspired primarily by minority groups in Nigeria. The queer community. The atheist community. And especially women. Nigeria is a deeply religious and conservative society, and while there are diverse ethnic groups and languages, they’re all really united in one thing: the ostracism of minority groups. So what we have are members of these groups having to shrink themselves and minimize their identities to conform to society’s expected picture of the ideal. REBEL is a celebration of the few who have chosen not to conform. Those who have chosen to live their identity and be loud and proud.
Who is “the black sheep” we see on REBEL? She has an enigmatic silhouette that conveys a powerful feeling. How did you two collaborate?
So, when I started out in photography, most of the people who modeled for me were the closest people to me. My siblings, neighbors, friends and colleagues from the office. They were always eager to work with me and I’m immensely grateful for their support. The model in the picture is an upcoming musician, by the stage name Nine, who was my neighbor at the time. She has been a supporter of my work from inception and is always willing to model for my photographs. I hope to make enough money through NFTs to be able to support her musical career too.
THE RISE OF CRYPTO ART
Now you have started to sell your digital artworks on an NFT platform… How do you see the future of crypto art, also as a banker? Do you think crypto is the future of money that dinosaurs are not able to understand yet or a big illusion?
I believe decentralized finance is the future of money. Eventually, the dinosaurs will have to get with it or go extinct. Already, in Nigeria, a lot of Nigerians have joined the crypto space and are ditching traditional banks in favor of digital currencies. NFT is another way to give cryptocurrencies utility. NFTs are still in the infancy stage right now. I believe as more artists join the space, it’ll eventually get saturated.
Could you count one thing that symbolizes the Nigerian spirit?
I can’t think of one thing that symbolizes the Nigerian spirit, lol. But what I can say is, one word that captures the Nigerian spirit is “resilience”. Nigerians are resilient people. In the face of hardship caused by bad leadership and a global pandemic, Nigerians have found ways to thrive, offline and online, and make a name for themselves. I think that’s one of the few things that makes me proud to be a Nigerian.
We notice a rise in African talents and voices in recent years. We see more and more black models on the runways and big advertisement campaigns. Do you think African people are more visible around the world now, with their identity, style and creative work?
Yes. African people are more visible now, thanks to social media. But it is not nearly enough. There is still a lot of untapped and unrecognized creativity in Africa, not accessed yet due to poverty. I think the next few decades will be very interesting for African creativity, as social media continues to grow within Africa.
To follow Godswill Utong on Instagram: @g.v.utong