Are NFTs queerer than we think?

Are NFTs queerer than we think?

When it comes to diversity, NFTs don’t have the best rep. But the good news is that countless underground and established queer artists are embracing this relatively young art history.

Written by Izzy Yon

6 min read

Bora, 2022

When it comes to NFTs, crypto and Web3, I am a gawky teenager yearning to sit with the cool kids. I have a childlike excitement when it comes to learning new things. And NFTs, at a mere nine years old, are still very new. Sadly, NFTs don’t have the best rep when it comes to diversity. Stereotypes of white boys in Reddit wormholes were strengthened by an ArtTactic report that revealed women made up only 16% of the NFT market. But beneath the surface (and in your eye line too) there’s a weird and wonderful world of queer NFTs – and its possibilities are endlessly growing.

Bora, (left) I will be your wings, 2022. (right) Coif, 2022

Speedy history

Over the past year, we’ve all witnessed the volatility of the NFT market. NFT history is history on amphetamines. It moves fast, jittery. But one artist writing NFT history at her own speed is Nina Chanel Abney.

For Nina, there’s little difference between making a collage, an NFT, or a mural on the side of a building. A bit like the infinite gender spectrum, Nina moves fluidly between on and off-chain – she even made her celebrated NFT collection Super Cool World with paper and scissors before it became digital.

“I initially started Super Cool World to give more representation to communities within the Web3 space”, she says. “I don’t feel like there is enough representation of Black masculine-presenting or queer women. So if I can bring my experience to life and it inspires others then I feel like I’m doing a good job”.

Nina Chanel Abney, Super Cool World, 2022.

Emerging artist Bora feels a similar way. “Why queer digital art is important is because it touches the youth more and more every day”, they tell me as we chat over Whatsapp.

I personally didn’t have queer representations when I was a teenager. So if digital art can support the young people and give them love too, that’s amazing.

Bora definitely delivers what they set out to do. Their Lee Bowery statuesque creatures offer new beauty ideals in a world of unrealistic filters and BBL. Sure, Bora’s creatures are unrealistic too – but in a fantastical and extraordinary way. The lush textures are amazingly intricate. They’re weird and wonderful, sexy and awkward. A fun but playful sense of empowerment emanates from the screen. 

Bora, My Body, My Castle, 2022

Niall Ashley is another emerging artist who brings rich texture to our screens. They paint like a neo-expressionist but make films like a gamer. regenerate+repair (2022) is an intoxicating short film that starts with the artist jumping into one of their paintings and transforming into a colourful alien figure. The stylish humanoid frantically explores a dystopian landscape. 

Soon, the frenetic protagonist meets a familiar face – the relief of their unexpected meeting speaks to the value of community in a world often hostile to Black queer folk.

As well as artists, grassroots organisations are tipping the balance too. Creative Code Art is an artist-led community that was co-founded by Itzel Yard, one of the highest-selling NFT artists in the world. They supported many women and non-binary artists such as Alida Sun and sylvia ke.

In London, @Disturbance is a trans-led programme which supports emerging LGBTQIA+ artists. In 2022, they hosted introductory workshops run by Blanca Regina for artists looking to get into NFTs.

“I wanted to organise this workshop because the art that dominates NFT spaces is often not really the type of art that I would like to collect”, says @Disturbance creative director Deen Atger. “In the workshop, we also questioned NFTs with their impact on the environment and so we were exploring things with intersectionality in mind.”

This kind of holistic thinking is what many queer communities pride themselves on. Sure, the queer community is far from perfect, but they do their best to make the world a better place. NFTs are just the inevitable next step of the world after the internet – and queers will make themselves known within it.

Alida Sun, (both) DAY 1432, 2023

Queer by nature

Over the years, I’ve listened to a lot of discussions around art and NFTs. The more I listened, the more it became apparent that NFTs are actually queer by nature. My theory goes like this:

In today’s world, digital and physical life overlap and bleed into each other all the time. Life exists beyond the binary of online/offline, digital/physical, just like gender exists beyond the binary of man/woman. 

Whether you like it or not, we live in a trans world. 

Likewise, NFTs exist beyond the binary of on-chain/off-chain. They’re basically post-gender by definition. This becomes clear when we look at how NFTs are being made and distributed.

Sarah Zucker: The Light Witch, 2021

Sarah Zucker is a bonafide NFT big-dog (and queer artist) who moves with ease between on-chain and off-chain. She calls herself a “video witch” and her work taps into many different theories on existence, memory and magic. One of my personal favourites is her take on the internet mimicking fungi​​ – especially now that mushrooms are the patron saint of eco-core-millennial queers.

Anyway, what’s relevant about Sarah’s work is that she uses analogue machines like VHS players and camcorders to create gifs, memes and videos. For her, there’s no stark line between on-chain and off-chain. Analogue things can become digital and vice versa.

In terms of distribution, on-chain and off-chain are also getting blurry. One Banksy painting, for example, was bought by the blockchain startup Particle for $12.9 million. It was then broken up into 10,000 NFTs. So now 10,000 people own the IRL painting via their digital wallet. 

On the other hand, in 2021, a different Banksy painting worth £274,000 was burned by the blockchain company, Injective. The painting had been fractionated into multiple NFTs before it was destroyed – Injective didn’t think that both could exist at the same time. This too is queer and trans by nature. It actually reminds me of my cousin’s naming ritual where they set their birth name on fire to say goodbye. 

An original Bansky being burnt and live streamed by blockchain company, Injective.

Beyond fine art, developers and companies are using NFTs flexibly between on and off-chain too. Blockchain real estate is on the rise, and it’s changing the legal structures of property ownership. Netflix is also using NFTs more regularly as part of its strategy. Notably, the entertainment giant did an NFT scavenger hunt for the launch of Love, Death and Robots Season 3, which placed QR codes across IRL billboards and online spaces.

It's fair to say the line between on-chain and off-chain is getting pretty fluid. The NFT spectrum is for every colour of the rainbow. So NFTs must be queer, right?

Bansky: Love is in the Air, 2005, courtesy of Particle.

The final reckoning

As you’ve probably guessed, it’s a yes from me – NFTs are definitely queerer than we think. But when I exercise a healthy dose of self-criticism, I remember the cold hard truth of the matter – I am queer and, in true human fashion, tend to think everything is the same as me.

But perhaps that is precisely the point? Maybe NFTs are just as queer as we want to make them? Maybe now is my moment to sit with the cool kids? Or better still, I’ll sit at a table of my own.

Avant Essays are short(ish) opinions on art, written by anyone with an opinion on art. Have something to say? Get in touch.



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