When New Delhi-based illustrator and designer Ravi Koranga checked his phone last evening, he saw an all-caps “SOLD OUT” next to his digital art.
“I thought it was an error message,” he told VICE.
Koranga’s work from his ongoing collection Dark Times 2020, based on the raging pandemic in India, sold out within just ten minutes of being listed as a non-fungible token or NFT, a unique identifiable digital asset that can be exchanged between a creator and a buyer through cryptocurrency.
Koranga’s piece shows people wearing masks in a crowd while a hooded figure with the face of the coronavirus looks on. “I now plan to mint a couple of artworks every week,” he said. In NFT verse, you don’t sell artwork, you “mint” it.
Koranga is one of the 15 artists chosen by India’s biggest crypto exchange platform, WazirX, for their newly launched NFT marketplace.
Ever since NFTs became a thing, people have tried to become millionaires off it. Sex workers have their own NFT porn and indie musicians and artists are also able to benefit from their own sales. Recently, the artist Beeple sold his artwork in the largest ever sale of NFTs at $69 million.
WazirX has over five million users and recently announced that they will add the NFT feature for Indian artists and creators to sell their work.
This is the first for India, and only one of a few in South Asia.
The platform features only Indian-orgin artists at the moment in a bid to push their work to an international audience that might otherwise not notice their art. However, artists from around the world can sign up for the creator programme in the future.
India’s rules on cryptocurrency aren’t clear. In 2018, India’s central bank asked banks not to extend their services to those who invest in cryptocurrency. However, India’s Supreme Court overturned that order in 2020 citing that cryptocurrencies were neither legal nor illegal in India, and that such orders cannot be given arbitrarily.
Unlike cryptocurrencies, NFTs aren’t fungible. For instance, you can trade a bitcoin for another bitcoin and end up with the same thing, but unique objects like songs, domain names or in this case, works of art cannot be perfectly replaced when exchanged.
The Mumbai-based start-up says they’ve received around 15,000 applications from South Asian artists and creators already.
The platform is already hosting visual artist Vimal Chandran, anonymous street artist Tyler, wall mural artist Sneha Chakraborty, Montreal-based mixed media artist Ishita Banerjee, and automotive photographer Arjun Menon.
WazirX claims that they have also shortlisted 300 other desi creators to release their work. The first NFT sold by the platform was by artist and architect Shreya Daffney for 150 WRX or approximately $278. WRX are the tokens used by WazirX for transactions.
“I almost missed WazirX’s email to me when they asked me to come on board,” said Karan Kalra, one of the first 15 creators chosen by the platform. Kalra’s work is priced between 100 to 1,200 WRX which is the equivalent of $197 to $2,371. “I have already sold a limited edition piece for 100 WRX ($200). I’m hoping my higher priced stuff starts gaining some traction too.”
Kalra has been a part of crypto communities for four years now. “I was waiting for an opportunity to enter the NFT market and I’m so glad this worked out.”
Mumbai-based anonymous street artist Tyler who also plans to sell his work agreed. “A lot of artists struggle with showcasing their works and also making a buck out of them. With NFTs, both these problems might get solved for younger artists,” he said.