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How NFTs are throwing Japanese artists an economic lifeline during COVID

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 A visitor looks at artist Yasumasa Yonehara's "Sup" with a mobile phone app, during "CrypTOKYO", a physical blockchain art exhibition in Tokyo.
A visitor looks at artist Yasumasa Yonehara's "Sup" with a mobile phone app, during "CrypTOKYO", a physical blockchain art exhibition in Tokyo.   -   Copyright  PHILIP FONG/AFP
By Aisling Ní Chúláin  & AFP

COVID-19 had a disastrous effect on the business of Tokyo-based tattoo artist Ichi Hatono, who relied heavily on foreign tourists drawn to his work featuring Japanese folk creatures.

Faced with border closures during the pandemic, Hatano pivoted to digital, selling his designs as non-fungible tokens, or NFTs.

"It's great for artists to have a new market, it opens a lot of possibilities," said the 44-year-old artist.

"This is the emergence of a new economy, a new way to value art. It is not so much that the artists' works are taking on a life of their own, but they are receiving more attention, economically," he added.

Hatano’s work is among the 150 NFTs making a splash at Japan’s first crypto art exhibition in Tokyo.

The CrypTokyo exhibition celebrates the crypto assets which use blockchain technology to authenticate ownership of digital objects.

NFTs have been growing in popularity in recent years but exploded onto the mainstream in March with the sale of artist Beeple’s digital collage 'Everydays: the First 5000 Days' which sold for almost €60 million.

They’ve also become widely known for garnering huge sums of money for memes, tweets, and classics of internet culture.

Sascha Bailey, the curator of the CrypTokyo exhibition being held in the Japanese capital, believes the real benefit of NFTs is in enabling smaller artists to monetise their artwork. He considers the high-profile Beeple sale to be ‘an exception’.

"Maybe (Beeple's sale) was important to show the mainstream art world that it's a competitive thing," he said.

"I see crypto art being the most powerful and meaningful when it's helping smaller artists".

For more on this story, watch the watch in the media player above.

Video editor • Matthew Ashe