NFT​.NYC — How the Web3 space is validating the work of digital artists

Following the conclusion of the fourth annual NFT.NYC conference, attendees took the opportunity to reflect upon a week of artistic inspiration, community networking and developer innovation from within the nonfungible token (NFT) space.

A sequel to last year’s popular debut, The Digital Diaspora event on June 19 served as a dedicated exhibition, panel discussion, and fundraiser to amplify the voices and creative talents of artists of color in the NFT space. 

The event was a collaboration between the renowned skyscraper photographer DrifterShoots and youthful rising-star artist Diana Sinclair, in partnership with sponsors MetaMask and Samsung, and was hosted at the Samsung 837 hub in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan, New York on Father’s Day and Juneteenth. 

Hosted by Community Manager at MetaMask, Faith Love, panelists included Diana Sinclair, Emonee LaRussa, Andre O’Shea, Elise Swopes, Cory Van Lew and a cameo stage appearance from DrifterShoots.

June 19, known commonly as Juneteenth, is one of the most culturally significant days of the American calendar, marking the historic moment in 1865 when the last African Americans were emancipated from slavery in Galveston, Texas. 

Nowadays, the federal holiday of Juneteenth serves as a poignant reminder to consciously reflect on the atrocities of the past, but it’s also an opportunity to amplify the societal narrative around cultural diversity and representation, as well as celebrate the modern accomplishments of people of color. 

The Digital Diaspora — with “diaspora” referring to the global migration and displacement of people of similar culture or origins — was a celebration of Black culture, aiming to bring “awareness to issues of racism and inequality, while highlighting the beauty of the art birthed from these ever-present struggles,” according to the website. 

“The Digital Diaspora is an art show that celebrates Black culture and the people who design it, elevating voices that often go unheard and giving a platform to those less seen. By displaying and celebrating the artists chosen and through the charity selected, we push forward to design and build a future that truly welcomes Black art in its truest form.” 

The Digital Diaspora event was attended in person by Cointelegraph’s NFT reporter, Tom Farren, as a part of his week-long reporting duties at the NFT.NYC conference.

Pictured Left to Right: Faith Love, Diana Sinclair, Emonee LaRussa, Andre O’Shea, Elise Swopes, Cory Van Lew.

Sinclair shared insights into the inspiration and origin story of a recent piece of work titled “You Cant Smooth A Crumpled Paper Or A Wrinkled Heart” in collaboration with musician and producer Reuel Williams. 

“It was a very intense art piece that took a lot of time to make. This piece was a lot about the process of it, actually, rather than exactly the end artwork,” Sinclair stated before continuing: 

“I created a video collage of this friend of mine [where] she’s breathing and moving. I printed out each frame of the video, crumpled it up with my brother and flattened out each one, so now it’s like a wrinkled piece of paper. Then, I scanned and turned it into a stop motion video, and my mother created a poem to go with it.” 

Williams was instrumental in evolving the piece to a “whole other level,” said Sinclair. The cascading sonics of the musical soundtrack provide a structural intensity to the visual imagery, complementing the narrative of progression in the face of adversity. 

“This piece is about persistence and how even though we — meaning Black people in this country — have been wrinkled, have been flattened, have gone through so much struggle, that we still persist, and we still continue. So, it’s a looping video,” said Sinclair. 

An accompanying poem was written for the piece by Sinclair’s mother, Leia which can be viewed here. The final four lines read: “We lift wrinkled hearts to the sun for healing / While we show beautiful shades / Of smooth unbothered shea butter skin / To the world.” 

The Sinclair and Williams collaborative piece is one of nine that was displayed at the event and is currently under auction. Others include Yacht Lounge by Cory Van Lew, Bask in the Glow by Elise Swopes, and One Decision Away by Andre O’Shea, among others. 

Related: Crypto secures a place in the African American saga

Andre O’Shea spoke with eloquence on the subject of Black representation within the NFT space, sharing his belief that progress exists in the form of an infinite symbol where when one circle — depicting an artist’s career or creative contribution — ends, the next circle continues the cycle for the next generation.

“Becoming an artist in the Web3 space, I see how validated we are as digital artists now [because it] gives us this platform. But also, speaking to the new opportunities that it gives us is much kind of like what Diane is doing now — creating more spaces for us, create bigger spaces for us, actually laying down that path.”

The everlasting ability to expand the branches of opportunity and uplift new creators and voices is a significant benefit in the Web3 space compared to its predecessor, claimed O’Shea. 

Emonee LaRussa, a two-time Emmy award-winning motion graphics artist, and founder of the nonprofit project, Jumpstart Designers, utilized her time portion of the panel to publicly announce her curation of an upcoming event on Nov. 5 in Los Angeles at SuperChief Gallery.

She also shared her philosophy behind Jumpstart Designers, and the ways in which the educational program is supporting young creators from underserved communities develop their digital skills on Adobe Creative Cloud, and gain access to necessary computing equipment. 

“This has been a dream of mine since I was a kid. I didn’t grow up with a whole lot of money, and being in digital art, I had realized that […] me experiencing not having access really made me realize how reliant my dreams were on money.” 

“And so, I wanted to change the future of digital art. So that is our motto: change the future of digital art. Because we really believe that by bringing these kids on, you’ll see new experiences, new stories that you’ve never seen before, and they won’t be limited to what they can create.” 

In 2021, 25-year-old LaRussa mentored six emerging artists as a part of the Voice NFT Residency to create and auction their own NFT artworks. All of the $38,742 raised to-date has been donated to low-income children seeking to increase their digital literacy and animation skills. 

“We all know, digital art is very expensive. And how many kids out there are just so talented, so creative and don’t even have the opportunity? NFTs have changed our life and how many opportunities NFTs brings for us, they’re just not even in question for that. And so, we want to change that.” 

Invited onto the stage from his seat in the audience, DrifterShoots, commonly referred to as Drift, shared his gratitude for the approximate 1,000 people in physical attendance.

“This means the world to us,” he stated. “You know, the space can be a lot of smoke and mirrors at times — people playing with ‘pretend money’ and things like that. But I think at the end of the day as artists, especially as Black artists, with purposes and real intentions, we want our art, our lives, our stories to make a clear impact in the world.”