Osinachi, a self-taught digital artist, might just be the most successful Nigerian artist currently trading in the field of NFTs. He talks to us about his incredible journey so far, from navigating the NFT space so early on to collaborating with Don Jazzy and selling his art for as high $70,000.
Let’s start with the obvious question: What are NFTs?
They are basically digital assets on the blockchain.
Could you break down what the blockchain is for the uninitiated?
I will try to avoid big English. [Laughs]
Please, try for us!
So, the blockchain is a ledger that contains transactions. If you or anybody sells something and the buyer resells it, the blockchain will record it. Anybody can go and check.
Thank you for your service.
[Laughs] You are welcome!
How did you get started with digital art?
I studied Library and Education Service in UNN. In 2016, I got a job in the same university and was there for four years. But before then, I was making art with my computer using Microsoft Word.
That’s remarkable. How do you do it?
[Laughs] I can only explain that practically. It’s something I have mastered. I remember making the NTA logo as my first piece.
What inspires your art now?
My art is inspired by what I see around me, especially social interactions between people and groups of people. I try to explore how people’s biases — with regards to things like gender, sexual orientation and race — twist the way they view others.
I just want to portray people as they are, with the hope of challenging these biases.
Wonderful. So how did you get into the blockchain space?
I sent my work to many galleries, but I didn’t hear back. They were not really into digital art. I hadn’t sold anything physical; I was just making art and keeping it at home. When I wasn’t at work, I would make art and show my friends.
You just kept creating.
Yeah. Thankfully, I love surfing the internet. I was asking myself what next after NYSC. I was the best graduating student in my class, which means I had the option of going back to teach. But I also like to have a plan B and C and D, so I set up Google alerts for digital art.
I knew I had the skill, but people didn’t seem to get my art. I remember getting accidentally included in an email from a gallery I submitted to. They were asking if I was really serious about using Microsoft Word. It was condescending, so I responded and got an apology.
That must have been frustrating.
It was. One day I saw an alert for something about art on the blockchain. It looked interesting, so I sent an email to the platform. It was new and called RARE Art. They were kind enough to put me through what it all meant.
What happened next?
I sent my portfolio and they put me through the process of minting. They whitelist you, which means giving you permission to put your art on the blockchain through their marketplace or platform. I then put prices on my artwork.
At that stage, NFTs were more experimental. About a year later, other platforms started emerging. I discovered other marketplaces and started joining them. Early 2018, I was able to sell art for about $10.
How did things progress after that?
In 2018, cryptoart continued to slowly take off. People were selling for $100 or more. I sold some of my work for about $30 to $50. This was good money for me because when I converted it, I got like ₦15k.
I remember being broke because of black tax; I was looking at the ceiling when I got an email for an offer. I accepted the offer immediately, got about ₦14k from an exchange and ran to the market.
LMAO. So, when and why did you decide to become a full-time artist.
It was in 2020, during the lockdown, that I finally left my job at UNN. I saw that with the blockchain, I could really make something of my art, especially because it was finally getting a lot of love. My work was in high demand.
I knew I could triple what UNN was paying me in a month just from selling art, and that was like a dream come true for me.
How much was your art going for at the time?
Collectors started trickling into the space in late 2019, and that was when I started seeing sales for my art go up to around $500 to $1,500. It was why I felt comfortable enough to finally make art my full-time job.
What would you say has been your most career-affirming sale?
That’s hard to say because I find each sale significant and career-affirming. But if it’s based on what the art itself stood for and how it was received, my piece Nduka’s Wedding Day, which featured a guy in a wedding dress, stands out for me.
It was very well-received and was kind of made popular by collectors in the space.
Nice! How much does an Osinachi piece go for at the moment?
It goes for anywhere between $50k and $70k.
WHAT?! From $10 in 2018 to $70k in 2022? That’s amazing.
Thanks, but I have to add that when it comes to sales, especially for someone at the point that I am in my career, it’s not that frequent. It could take up to 6 months to make a sale. The market goes up and down, so you have to be patient.
Fair enough. So, tell me about your collaboration with Don Jazzy.
Someone at Mavins reached out and proposed the collaboration last year. I thought it would be a great way to show recording artists how they could also get into the NFT space, so I did it for the culture.
Don Jazzy made the beats and I made the animated art. We put it together, and it was great.
What about your first exhibition?
I’ve had two firsts. My first group exhibition was with Artoja in Lagos. It was called Daydreaming, and I did it with Dennis Osadebe and some other talented artists.
My first solo exhibition, which was so career-affirming, was in Zurich, Switzerland in 2020. It was interrupted a bit by lockdown, but it resumed in June of the same year. It was called Existence as Protest.
I like that title.
It came from the idea that my work focuses on showing certain marginalised groups simply existing as they are. When these people, like the man wearing a dress, walk the streets and take up space, I consider that a form of protest.
Any upcoming projects we should look forward to?
Yeah. I have an upcoming collaborative project called Across The Face with Async Art and SuperRare, two NFT platforms. It’s the first time two of such platforms are collaborating like this, and it’s really exciting.
It’s a generative project, which means people will get different editions of the NFT. There will be 100O editions, all with a unique feature to it.
Congratulations! Lastly, what would you advise someone looking to come into the NFT space?
I will say be patient. You might go months without a sale, but that doesn’t mean your work isn’t good. You have to engage the community and a lot of them are not in Nigeria. Twitter is the main social media for NFT enthusiasts. You need the community.