Meet the Artist at the Forefront of the Fight Against Racism in NFTs

At the same time as NFTs proceed to make headlines throughout the globe, racism and a extreme lack of illustration proceed to rile the trade, albeit quietly. Amid the frenzy of million-dollar gross sales and high-profile movie star drops, many of those points have been conveniently brushed below the carpet. However, now, well-known Asian-American artist, activist, and technologist, Drue Kataoka helps usher in a brand new daybreak within the NFT artwork world—a various and equitable area harbouring hopes of a brighter future.  

In an unique interview with NFTevening, Kataoka, additionally the CEO of Drue Kataoka Studios, informed us, “Whereas NFTs have been heralded as a democratizing pressure within the artwork world, the area has allowed for a similar systemic biases we see in our society at present to proliferate.” 

Artist Drue Kataoka with her Ambrosia Artworks
Drue Kataoka is an artist, technologist, activist, and the founding father of Drue Kataoka Studios. Credit: Spencer A. Brown

NFTs, racism, and an absence of illustration

It’s true—many welcomed NFTs for his or her potential to create an equitable, numerous, and inclusive area for artists. Sadly, actuality tells a special story. 

Take for instance Beeple’s ‘Everydays: The First 5,000 Days‘, the NFT that created historical past with its $69 million sale in March 2021. Since then, the work has acquired a lot acclaim, even past the NFT and crypto area. However, what’s little talked about is its disturbing racist and sexist imagery. From the misogynistic portrayal of Hillary Clinton to racist Asian sketches, the 5,000-image collage options some questionable content material. 

Extra just lately, Jungle Freaks’ artist, George Trosley was slammed for his racist cartoons from the ‘70s. Some even alleged that the NFT assortment options Nazi symbolism. Racism apart, NFTs will not be doing properly on the illustration entrance both. 

Drue Kataoka thinks Illustration is severely missing

At the moment, lots of the initiatives within the NFT area lack range and illustration. Hit NFT collectibles, The Sneaky Vampire Syndicate, as an illustration, caters solely to cis-gendered males. In reality, the blue-chip NFT venture, Bored Ape Yacht membership is not any higher. Whereas the area has transgender artists like Fewocious and initiatives like World of Girls elevating funds for ladies’s charities, they solely make up a small fraction of the trade.

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“Illustration within the NFT area is sadly severely missing,” Kataoka says, echoing Art Tactic’s NFT Art Market report from November. “For the previous 12 months and a half, males proceed to account for almost all of NFT artwork gross sales, representing 77 per cent of all whole gross sales whereas girls stood at a meagre 5 per cent.”

She added that whereas she finds the figures “extraordinarily troubling”, it isn’t “shocking”. The standard artwork trade too is notoriously well-known for under-representing feminine artists. “This 12 months, of the 100 top-grossing artists offered within the day and night gross sales, 14 had been girls—representing solely 14 per cent of the market,” says Kataoka.

Because the NFT area turns into yet one more boy’s membership, is there an answer? 

“Whereas it might be a matter of who typically invests essentially the most within the NFT-crypto ecosystem, there are structural modifications that may be made to raised empower and uplift feminine artists within the area,” says Kataoka.

This contains collections and exhibitions specializing in works by girls, unique market drops, or partnerships with feminine artists. All these may help deal with the “gender imbalance,” she added.

Drue Kataoka is preventing racism and sexism along with her artwork

Not too long ago, Kataoka collaborated with over 40 artists and technologists to create an NFT for social justice. Titled, ‘Will Your Heart Pass the Test?’, the NFT took inspiration from a delusion described within the historic Egyptian textual content, ‘E book of the Lifeless’. The textual content depicted a check the place a lifeless particular person’s coronary heart is weighed towards a feather to resolve their entry into the afterlife. 

“My piece was additionally created in response to the rising variety of racist and sexist imagery inside the NFT ecosystem,” Kataoka says. “‘Will Your Coronary heart Cross the Take a look at?’ is a name for introspection, reminding viewers that whereas the various applied sciences we take without any consideration at present foster a extra equitable taking part in subject in communications and content material creation, hate continues to thrive in these areas.”

A still from Will Your Heart Pass the Test? NFFT by artist Drue Kataoka
A nonetheless from Will Your Coronary heart Cross the Take a look at? – An NFT by Drue Kataoka Studios x ILMxLab. Credit: www.Drue.web

“There have been missed alternatives to confront these social ills as we cover behind the collective “we” and evade particular person accountability,” she additional provides. “The reality is, these are issues of our making and on the finish of our lives, how will we be judged for letting them go on unfettered?”

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Will Your Coronary heart Cross the Take a look at?

Kataoka created the beautiful piece in partnership with ILMxLAB, Lucasfilm’s immersive leisure studio. Lucasfilm is known for its work with movies akin to Star Wars, Raiders of the Misplaced Ark, Indiana Jones, and extra. 

Will Your Coronary heart Cross the Take a look at? is a technological marvel, with every body taking 20 minutes to digitally render. Girls from 5 inspiring organizations spearheaded this venture. Moreover, a crew from throughout London, Singapore, the San Francisco Bay space, and Las Vegas helped create the art work.

Phillips auctioned the piece from 8-15 December for $252,000. Extra importantly, all proceeds from the gross sales go to 2 vital American civil rights organizations, The Martin Luther King Jr. Heart for Nonviolent Social Change and Cease AAPI Hate. Dr Martin Luther King Jr. has been an influential determine in Kataoka’s life from when she was youthful. She describes him as a “​​large profound thinker” and a “difficult, and sometimes uncomfortable thinker.”

Moreover, she took inspiration partly from her many conversations along with his youngest daughter and CEO of The King Heart, Reverend Dr Bernice A. King.

“​​The proliferation of racist and sexist imagery within the NFT area is deeply regarding,” Rev. Dr Bernice mentioned. “The King Heart and I are proud to take part on this historic NFT art work. Drue Kataoka shares our imaginative and prescient that highly effective rising applied sciences like blockchain and AI ought to be bent in the direction of the aim of social justice, not simply commercialization and militarization.”

Extra in regards to the artist

Drue Kataoka has been an energetic presence within the digital artwork area for years. True to her perception “Artwork is expertise and expertise is artwork”, her works usually use digital actuality and cell expertise. 

As a younger artist, Kataoka attended Stanford College as an alternative of an artwork faculty to be taught extra about expertise. Whereas she joined galleries after commencement, sexual harassment and “very exploitative” and “unworkable enterprise phrases” led her to depart the job. Finally, she based her personal artwork studio, modelled after “the profitable tech startups” of her classmates, she mentioned.

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Celestial Lace Sculpture by Drue Kataoka along with artist Drue Kataoka
Celestial Lace, Sculpture by Drue Kataoka Studios in mirror-polished chrome steel. Credit: www.Drue.web

“We began actually from zero 20 years in the past, when folks didn’t consider that the San Francisco Bay Space might maintain a significant impartial artwork studio, not to mention a woman-led or Asian American woman-led one,” she recollects. “Quick ahead to at present, we now have a worldwide footprint.”

One in every of Kataoka’s notable artworks is ‘UP!’, which was featured throughout the first zero-gravity artwork exhibit on the Worldwide House Station in 2008. Apparently, the medium used was ink, paper, and time dilation. She additionally famously made a bit for Japanese Princess Takamado honouring Japan.

Artwork UP at International Space Station
‘UP!’ within the first zero-gravity artwork exhibit on the Worldwide House Station. Credit: www.Drue.web

Kataoka on NFTs

As an early adopter of digital actuality tech, NFTs had been a pure subsequent step for Kataoka. She dropped her first NFT assortment—’Within the Membership: #StopAsianHate’—in Might this 12 months. All of the proceeds from the gross sales had been donated to Asian Individuals’ Catalyst Fund for Justice.

“It [NFT tech] solves a significant downside that existed earlier than with digital artwork: documenting provenance, possession, and uniqueness of a digital art work,” she defined. “NFTs can characterize the following wave of tech for good, standing on the intersection of artwork and activism.”

She additional famous that just like the blockchain trade, the spirit of NFTs lies within the freedom of expression and decentralization. She had the next to say to under-represented communities aspiring to enter the NFT artwork area:

“For artists which have been marginalized by the standard artwork world as a consequence of sexism or racism, the NFT ecosystem presents an thrilling alternative,” she mentioned. “Nonetheless, the area will probably be what we select to make of it—a brand new, extra simply frontier, or a refuge for a similar poisonous biases we inherited from say social media. It’s nonetheless very early for the NFT area, and now we have the ability to form it.”

We actually agree. Thanks a lot to Drue Kataoka for speaking to us at NFTevening. We sit up for seeing her keep on this area for a very long time.

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