- Says framework to support and regulate digital art needs to be introduced
Pakistani artist, curator and educator Adeel uz Zafar is skeptical about Non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
His own foray into the digital asset amalgamation is interesting. Treading cautiously, he is treating it as an exploratory measure, collecting prolific contemporary artist Damien Hirst amongst others.
That too, has been offered by Hirst in hybrid form - a deed sold to the customer, with the option to convert it into physical art or to leave it in digital form.
Both parties are hedging their bets, so to speak.
A collaboration with HENI, an art service business, Hirst himself monitors the online trade of his assets, watching how his art is faring in the digital world and what the trend points to.
“It’s trading all the time: It goes up and down, it’s got value one minute, and not the next,” Hirst told The New York Times in January 2022 of his latest NFT project.
Interestingly, the digital asset market has reversed course since, with investors shedding their positions on crytpocurrencies and NFTs amid a bear market.
Of the NFT phenomenon, though, at the moment, Zafar terms it a bubble, especially if the framework to support and regulate it does not exist.
He explains how it will not foster transparency and trust unless actual legislation to regulate it is introduced.
Astute observations since cryptocurrencies and NFTs have been on a downward trajectory, paralleling global economic trends.
Zafar studied painting and print-making at the National College of Arts (NCA) in Lahore. Later after some experimentation, he found drawing on vinyl to be his passion, after which it has since remained his signature style.
Of how his own practice has developed over the years, he is still creating images on vinyl, but his bandaged figures are not as covered up as before, beginning to reveal themselves a little bit. He has also been experimenting with the moving image, developing an arthouse film, that was critically appreciated, and one he is proud of.
Why the shift towards the moving image?
“The image itself is animated for me, why not speak to the audience vis-à-vis this medium also?”
Of future projects, Zafar is experimenting with sound, and looking to collaborate with a fashion house, perhaps superimpose his imagery onto fabric and observe it in motion.
The art fraternity in Pakistan, he explains, is still very conventional, where physical art still holds true, and is perhaps not quite ready yet to host NFTs in a gallery format yet.
However, a growing pool of younger Gen Z artists are curious and impatient - a generational shift no doubt - and are exploring creating NFTs with developers outside of Pakistan.
“These are mainly drawing-based artist, attempting to transform their works into digital art," he explains.
“The online world has opened up and developers and artists are able to find each other in the digital space and connect on their own and collaborate.”
Zafar feels like there is an audience to collect NFTs here. "Absolutely, there are collectors.”
Teaching is another passion, where he is enjoying interacting with young minds of all ages, feeling inspired by them. Zafar teaches drawing to foundation year students at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture.
What separates our generation from them?
“They’re very sure of what they want to do, whether it be their practice or the medium,” he explains.
“Whereas our generation was switching over from analog to digital, this generation was born into the digital era, are quite connected with the global world and definitely better prepared for the rapidly changing world.”
During the pandemic, much like with cryptocurrencies and NFTs which saw a huge boost in recognition and popularity, local art too saw an uptick in sales.
“Interestingly, since we have a small, conventional market, I have seen a thriving expansion in the investment of physical art in the last 1-1.5 years. I can speak from personal experience and also for other fellow local artists,” he states.
On exhibiting internationally, “The kind of images I create, carry a global acceptance so to speak. Wherever I have exhibited I have found viewers to be able to connect instantly with my work.”
On pushing the art envelope forward
“During the past five years biennales in Karachi and Lahore have helped tremendously in building awareness within Pakistan especially concerning interaction with art in public spaces. These entities have been quite instrumental in amplifying the message and getting international media, collectors and curators interested."
“Additionally, we need more entities to be involved whether through diplomatic initiatives, collaboration with the private sector, corporate sector etc."
“We have a small art community, a small market that has its own limitations. We will have to look inward, at our own capacity and social structure and tread forward."
"We have no national museums etc, and everyone notes that. But how can there be? The fact is that from the beginning we didn’t include art and design in the educational curriculum, and so we will not be seeing any movement overnight.
It is harder to raise funding to exhibit internationally and participate at events of such scale such as international art fairs or say the Venice Biennale. These ventures require huge investments."
"With these limitations in play, the diversity you see within the art fraternity and their work is commendable. I think it will take time but is definitely well on its way.”
In the meantime, he has two upcoming solo shows coming up this year, both in Karachi and Lahore, along with some group shows and curatorial efforts.
On reviewing his progress over the last 18-19 years, Zafar introspects, examining and reviewing his own body of work, trying to even make sense of his own progression and trajectory.
On what his personal preferences are as a collector, Zafar is trying to build a collection of a genre of artworks, specifically ones leaning towards the morbid and the grotesque. He collects not canvases but mainly figures, both international and local, picked up on his travels.
These also include imagery with beheadings and such, Zafar looking for the collection to speak to the political and social climate of a specific time.
A message within, so to speak. No doubt the next generation of artists and audiences will be able to glean quite a bit from his own personal collection and reflective state.
Much like his own works, which he describes as dark, albeit not overtly - subtext and subversion running deep in Zafar’s pursuits.