NFTs have really taken off in recent years. In fact, the market is buzzing: the NFT Report 2020 published by L’Atelier BNP Paribas in collaboration with nonfungible.com highlights that the value of the NFT market surged by 299 percent in 2020 to more than $250 million. Moreover, as Reuters reports, NFT sales volume hit $2.5 billion in the first half of 2021, up from $13.7 million in the same time last year.
As young, tech-savvy collectors and traders move away from physical art to embrace experimental displays from native crypto artists, dedicated communities of NFT aficionados have begun to appear. Not even China — with Beijing’s restrictions on crypto — is immune from the hype: the recent sale of digital artist Beeple’s Everydays: The First 5000 Days “has taken the Asian market by storm,” Jacky Ho, the vice president and head of evening sales for modern and contemporary art at Christie’s in Hong Kong, told Artsy.
Christie’s data would appear to support Ho’s argument: it showed that among the 33 bidders competing for the work, 18 percent were from Asia. In fact, Chinese crypto investor Justin Sun lost the bid by $250k, in the last 20 seconds.
Certainly, it was this sale that ignited the mainland’s NFT mania. Several new industry players have since arrived to connect Chinese art lovers with emerging artists.
Of these, BOAX NFT Marketplace stands out. It auctions digital art pieces from local artists, up-and-coming African artists, Chinese virtual influencers and celebrities, and even royal families. Its curation of a reinterpreted painting by Dr. Dominic Man-Kit Lam (originally produced in 2004 for the Beijing Olympic Games) resulted in a sale for $16,000 (106,000 RMB) — auctioned to HRH Prince Narithipong Norodom of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
BOAX also partnered with Hong Kong-based metaverse gaming studio Index Game to develop “the world’s first I-Ching (or the Book of Changes) Metaverse,” and plans to build a Chinese New Year Feng Shui NFT project in partnership with the Feng Shui master Raymond Lo.
In charge of the design of these NFTs will be digital media production house IZBLU Labs, according to a press release. IZBLU has grown its audience by releasing digital collectibles which cater to the sensibilities of domestic collectors. Often, these feature elements of traditional philosophy and culture: like the Bulls for the Year of the Ox and the RMBits, inspired by Chinese characters; as well as the tokenization of existing physical works such as Liu Yuyi’s Qi Baishi series.
The success of these projects highlights that young local collectors pursue NFTs that reflect their national identity and express their own values. They want to see Chinese values, aesthetics, folklore, beliefs. Western brands wishing to expand their sales and engage Gen Z consumers shouldn’t underestimate the power of this cyber-nationalism. Crypto art is all about community. Combined with the Guochao trend, it’s a potent mix.
Labels and artists alike can exploit this by referencing Chinese artifacts or digital illustrations and garments of ancient apparel, like Qipao or Hanfu. And they shouldn’t overlook the potential of partnering up with homegrown players like IZBLU Labs and BOAX, who have proved they can make meaningful connections with domestic consumers.
But most importantly, if you want to win in this market, you should be well aware of what it actually wants. Simply tokenizing a designer outfit as Dolce &Gabbana did — without engaging the nuances of China’s cultural sensibilities — is doomed to fail. After all, if you don’t respect a country and its trends, why should it respect you?