“NFT growth in Dubai is almost a given,” says Lavesh Jagasia, Founder of auction house Artiana, making no mere observation, but a well-founded assertion. As the UAE’s hub of commercial art and a city poised on the cultural frontier — home to leading art events like Art Dubai and Expo Dubai as much as a museum scene characterized by digital innovation — Dubai has indeed warmly and very unsurprisingly embraced NFTs.
In the past months, the city’s cultural and financial sectors have rallied around crypto, rolling out exhibitions, conferences, and platforms, all under the eye of the rare government with a blockchain strategy. Inevitable, then, that Artiana, which has built its name on a hybrid auction model since 2015, should enter the NFT marketplace. Or in Jagasia’s words, “Our foray into digital art was imminent.”
Until February 28, the auction house is hosting The Mythical Metaverse, an exhibition and sale of NFTs minted from 40 works by Sakti Burman (not the only Indian artist to feature in an NFT auction). Best known for his marbling technique, the celebrated contemporary artist has produced an oeuvre of surreal dreamscapes, populated by mythical and fantastical hallmarks, which, since Burman ceased creating his marbled painting in 2015, are now much-coveted. Hence the move to offer “digital twins” of his work on OpenSea, a platform Artiana picked for its greater presence among the NFT community, to meet the demand from traditional art collectors.
As with any venture into a new sphere, the sale entailed educating these existing buyers about the blockchain — an effort that lays the groundwork for Artiana’s plans for continued engagement with the NFT market, particularly with its “curated platform,” the NFT Cannery. Here, Jagasia elaborates on the exhibition and Artiana’s project to onboard the collecting community.
What were some key considerations that went into Artiana’s first NFT exhibition and sale?
There were quite a few aspects that we had to consider while deciding on the exhibition and curating this specific collection. The exhibition was decided upon with our existing audience in mind; [they] are traditional art collectors who know this artist and his work and are aggressively pursuing his artworks in auctions. Taking that into account, we used the same body of artworks that are in demand in the secondary market to create digital versions.
How did Artiana work with Sakti Burman for the sale and exhibition?
Our sister concern, the NFT Cannery, collaborates with the respective artists and their estates to work out bespoke arrangements regarding the minting and sales of their NFTs. Artiana then lists these on its website to gain the required interest and traction for the marketing and sales of these NFTs.
Were there any challenges in planning or launching the exhibition, and how were they addressed?
The main challenge from the get-go was onboarding the traditional collector community into the digital sphere and getting them familiarized with the blockchain as a concept, the NFT and what it represents, the transaction process to buy the NFT in the native digital currency of the Ethereum blockchain, among other things. To address this, we have provided a dedicated team of experts in this sphere to hand-hold the clients and assist them through the entire process — from explaining the concept, to helping them create their blockchain wallets and completing the transfer of the NFT into their wallets.
Could you share any insights into the interest of your existing collectors in digital art?
Our existing collectors are positively interested in the concept of digital art and NFTs, especially after the hype about this and the metaverse in the media. However, their understanding of this domain and how it functions is limited. They need guidance and assistance in navigating this space; that is where we come in and act as a bridge between them and this dynamic new digital world.
What is your take on where NFTs currently stand in Dubai’s art world?
NFTs are widely discussed amongst various communities and a wide range of age groups locally. In general, it has been embraced by the younger generation instantaneously due to their understanding of new technologies and comfort in using various devices, especially with their gaming experiences and the amount of information on the subject available online. The older generations are mostly observers and followers keen to participate but might need a little help from intermediaries to navigate the space. But with the openness to new technology and a thriving art scene, NFTs are definitely a welcome addition to Dubai’s art world.