Digital art in the spotlight as Dubai makes crypto hub bid

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Dubai (AFP) – Art Dubai, the Middle East’s largest annual contemporary art fair, showcased digital works for the first time as the wealthy Gulf emirate seeks to position itself as a crypto-asset hub.

This year, in its 15th edition, the four-day fair welcomes more than 100 local and foreign art dealers, with an entire wing of 17 galleries and platforms dedicated to showcasing and selling NFTs (non-fungible tokens).

NFT vending platforms use the blockchain technology behind cryptocurrencies and turn everything from artwork to memes into virtual collectibles that cannot be duplicated.

Benedetta Ghione, executive director of Art Dubai, said NFTs, which broke into the mainstream last year and are now traded at major auction houses, have attracted a lot of attention in the United Arab Emirates. united, already a center of leisure and commerce.

The heightened interest, as well as Dubai’s “unique position” as a “growing center of crypto,” prompted show organizers to dedicate a new digital section, she told AFP during the event. launch Friday.

“We thought it was the perfect time and the perfect place,” she said.

Painting by British artist Marc Quinn (“Himalayan Spring”) Karim SAHIBAFP

After signing a deal in December with Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange by trading volume, Dubai – one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates – introduced a new cryptocurrency law last week. virtual assets and a regulatory authority to oversee the sector.

“Exponential growth”

Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, tweeted that such a move “establishes the position of the UAE in this sector” and aims “to ensure maximum transparency and security for investors”.

Local NFT platforms welcomed the move as good for business, with crypto holders increasingly interested in digital art as a form of investment.

“The crypto community is growing exponentially,” said Jennifer Stelco of curatorial platform NFT Morrow Collective, who exhibited around 20 digital artworks at the show, almost all by UAE-based artists. .

Art Dubai, the Middle East's largest annual contemporary art fair, showcased digital works for the first time as the wealthy Gulf emirate seeks to position itself as a crypto-asset hub
Art Dubai, the Middle East’s largest annual contemporary art fair, showcased digital works for the first time as the wealthy Gulf emirate seeks to position itself as a crypto-asset hub Karim SAHIBAFP

Among them is a coin by Vesa, a renowned Finnish artist based in Dubai, whose works combining painting and digitally enhanced images were offered for 50 ethereum (cryptocurrency), or about $127,000 at Sunday’s price.

Stelco said one piece, by Lebanese artist Magda Malkoun whose main work depicts her hometown of Beirut as a strong woman, was sold for three ethereum.

The global NFT boom, with American artist Beeple selling artwork for a record $69 million last year, has encouraged the Middle East’s leading online platform, Emergeast, to turn to digital art.

Created in 2014 and dedicated to emerging artists in the region, Emergeast sees NFTs as an opportunity for artists to “really expand” their audience, reaching both collectors and non-collectors, the co told AFP. -founder Nikki Meftah.

“The benefit is also that all artists receive royalties for each sale,” she added.

In the face of the NFT hype, Emirati sculptor and painter Aisha Juma began reworking a few sketches on a tablet a few months ago, though she emphasizes the importance of the art’s message rather than its medium.

“There’s complexity because now people are interested in the medium…the technology,” she said.

“Technology is extremely valuable. It gives me a platform to express myself more and use more tools, I’m not denying that, but I would also like people to look at the art, which I say. “

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