Opinion piece by MORROW collective: Why NFTs are here to stay

By Anna Seaman, Curator, MORROW Collective

In 2021, Collins Dictionary announced NFT as 'word of the year', a curious situation for something that isn’t really a 'word'.

Before the watershed moment of March 2021 when Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey sold the first ever tweet as an NFT for 1630 Ethereum ($2.9 million AUD at the time), and a digital collage by a previously unknown artist, Beeple, sold for $69 million, the term NFT was far from common parlance. In just 12 months, the rise of the NFT, shooting from obscurity to mainstream, has been meteoric.

The original technical definition of NFT was 'a non-fungible 1/1 item' but the term is now used to refer to any tokenised digital asset that is scarce. Hence the rise of not only artworks, but also collectibles.

Collectibles, like CryptoKitties and CryptoPunks (the latter of which were offered free to anyone with an Ethereum wallet in 2017 and are now selling for millions of dollars), dominated the NFT market in 2021. In fact, most eye-watering prices over the course of the past year were mostly attributed to low pixel, small, kitschy images that people use as profile pictures (PFPs) for status more than any kind of art appreciation.

However, alongside the collectibles boom, fine artists all over the world have been entering into the space eager to reach new collectors in the decentralised manner that cryptocurrency and NFTs allow.

Being part of an online community is game changing for artists because they no longer rely on networks of galleries or elite inner circles of art fairs and, in that way, NFTs had a democratising effect on the art world. However, the downside of such an open marketplace was the lack of quality control or curation.

In March 2021, an initiative called MORROW collective was launched in Dubai with the aim of solving this problem. Led by Claire Harris, Anna Seaman and Jen Stelco, the collective had a vision to bring curated fine art into NFTs. They partnered with top tier galleries offering both technical and artistic advice on which pieces would work best as NFTs. They also committed themselves to bridging the gap between the crypto world and the traditional world by looking at new ways to reach the public.

The trio launched an exhibition of 60 NFTs in a Metaverse (Cryptovoxels) gallery that featured key works by leading Middle Eastern artists, which despite being in the post-Beeple buzz, this was pioneering in an industry that was still adapting. They continued with a slew of exhibitions of NFTs alongside physical artwork counterparts in Dubai and ahead of Expo 2020, the collective teamed up with the Australia Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.

MORROW, in collaboration with Terra Virtua, a robust blockchain platform, enabled every visitor to the pavilion to avail a free NFT by simply scanning a QR code. The NFTs were produced from the artwork in the Australian Pavilion and with accompanying narrative and were available only for a limited time on Terra Virtua.

Each month for the six-month duration of Expo 2020 Dubai, visitors were able to get a different NFT, and add them to their collection. It was an exciting time and an effective way to bring new collectors into the field of NFTs. Since the beginning of Expo until now, as we near the end, NFTs have moved more and more into the mainstream.

Although cynics will continue to relegate NFTs to a bubble bound to pop, their potential to artists, collectors and investors alike will ensure they are here to stay. In a region that thrives on opportunity, there is nowhere more suited than the Gulf region for NFTs to thrive.