Anantha Krishnan Nadamel’s first brush with NFTs (non-fungible tokens) was in March, 2021, thanks to a friend. Since then, the 23-year-old visual designer with an IT company in Kochi has sold 26 NFTs (perhaps one of the highest for an Indian artist) and formed NFT Malayali, a global collective of Malayali artists for the NFT space. With NFT Malayali he wants to create a community of Malayali artists introducing them to the new, largely cryptocurrency-driven digital space.
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While curiosity led Nadamel, who specialises in 3D art, to the platform, selling his works and making more than ₹20 lakh opened his eyes to the medium’s potential.
NFTs, that exist on the blockchain, are a form of digital assets, valued for their uniqueness. The excitement, and earning, from selling 13 got Nadamel thinking about creating a community. “There will be Malayali artists unfamiliar with how NFT works. Not being tech-savvy could lead them to miss this opportunity. We have artists from all genres in the crypto art space. NFT Malayali, aims to bridge the gap between an artist and the crypto marketplace,” he says.
What started as a WhatsApp group of five has grown to a community of about 600 artists across mediums such as photography, art, music and videos on the NFT space. US-based artist, creative director and designer Melvin Thambi, who also an NFT collector, is the co-founder. Others on the team are Adeeb Abdul Salam, for technical support and Mahesh Krishnan, who is the content creative.
The team includes Shaarif Nazir, Clubhouse moderator: For the first two months of its inception, in May-June 2021, daily sessions on NFTs were held on Clubhouse. These served as explainers as well as a platform for artists to showcase their work. “Now we do sessions based on specific topics, ‘Artist Spotlights’, AMA (Ask Me Anything) with collectors, drop parties every weekend and collaboration with NFT collectible projects such as ‘Bulls on the Block’,” says Nadamel.
He clarifies that there is no money involved, “We want to enable a sale and help get the best value. We just want to introduce numerous talents from Kerala in the NFT space,” he says. A sale is not guaranteed every time, however, it does introduce the artist to prospective collectors. Another aspect NFT Malayali encourages artists to re-investing in NFTs. “Since the price of cryptocurrency is volatile, we recommend that artists mint NFTs when the gas fees [transaction fees for encryption] are cheaper,” Nadamel says. Minting of an NFT refers to the process of uploading and creating an NFT in the blockchain.
NFT communities also help artists understand the newer types of buyers in the virtual space so they often have to mould their art in order to sell. “There is no buyer’s demand. That is totally upto the artist’s branding. If he is good with a style, and if he keeps to it sales will happen. However, if one tries random artworks the artist would dilute his brand/identity. This is a loss for both artist and collector, because he cannot sell it as the artist’s brand since there wouldn’t be a brand or style.”
Photographer Hari Menon, who was introduced to NFTs by via the comunity’s Artist Spotlights on Clubhouse, is excited by the outcome. “I heard about it, was curious and eventually got into it seriously in June,” he says. He has, so far, sold six NFTs. “I have been part of several artists’, photographers’ ‘communities’ over the past 16 years as a photographer. But this group engages with members meaningfully,” he adds. Hari is a travel photographer with a huge following, he has photographed some of the most exotic locations in the country and the world, besides various tribes [some elusive] of India.
NFT Malayali has facilitated artistic collaborations. Hari collaborated with Melvin and a musician, Laxmi. Melvin turned a photograph by Hari into an illustration set to a music score by Laxmi, “The medium [NFT] and the community is encouraging artists to think in ways we would not have otherwise,” Hari says. The resultant art work was the process of converting the photograph, with Laxmi’s as the background score.
Initially, the Clubhouse discussions were in Malayalam, however, when the conversation shifted to English it saw more traction with international collectors dropping in to check out the artists. “The participation was great, at times 300-odd members would be part of the conversations, but later on we realised sticking to Malayalam might not work in our favour because collectors are not only Malayalis,” Nadamel says. Besides Clubhouse, NFT Malayali is also active on Twitter Spaces and Discord.
“Collectors are mostly on Twitter. You have to constantly engage with them, as should artists. Sales don’t happen constantly, but interaction is important. You are building your brand, an artist cannot afford to be reticent. You are watched, it doesn’t work if you are ‘unseen’,” he says. A collector is investing as much in an artist’s work and brand, as in their potential; they [collectors] could engage with an artist over an extended period before investing in an NFT.
With Kerala-based sculptor Prajeesh AD, Hari has formed ‘Focus Collective’ to help photographers interested in NFT. They will curate works and help navigate the unfamiliar world of cryptocurrency, blockchain and other aspects of NFT.
Hari explains that the revenue model is that 60% of the amount from a sale goes to the artist and 40% to the Collective for functioning and to re-investing. “All this is new and there are reservations, but we have managed rope in some photographers,” he says, adding ““This medium requires you to be ‘visible’, and engage with the community across the globe. Many of our artists are uncomfortable marketing themselves of their work. For some, it could be the technology, while for others language would be a barrier. We want to help, we don’t want anyone to be left behind when such an opportunity has presented itself.”