One day in September, while working full-time as an occupational therapist at a hospital in Texas, Sara Baumann was in a patient’s room when her Apple watch started pinging like crazy.
“Of course, you can’t scroll through an Apple Watch very quickly to gather information,” she says. So she went downstairs and called her husband to ask what was happening. He picked up the phone and started crying.
“Sara, Gary [Vaynerchuck] just bought all three of your art pieces,” Baumann recalls him saying. The rest of her genesis non-fungible token (NFT) collection, 10 paintings of women carrying weapons ranging from grenades to flamethrowers, then sold out in 45 seconds.
Baumann immediately asked whether she could quit her job – she cared deeply about her patients and colleagues, but art was her passion, and she’d always dreamed of doing it full-time. Her husband advised her to wait. Still, realizing that now was her time to “capitalize on the momentum,” Baumann put her head down and started working hard on her next NFT collection, one that she calls more “purpose-built for the space.”
That collection became Women and Weapons, a 10,000-piece profile picture project (PFP) featuring women with various skin tones, human-powered weapons (like boxing wraps and nunchucks), and nods to famous women from history, like Queen Isabella of Spain and Hurrem, the Ottoman Sultan’s wife who led with her husband in “almost equal caliber.” She drew all the women by hand, then used an algorithm to mismash their various traits to generate each unique image.
After about a six weeks of working nine- to 10-hour hospital shifts, then coming home to draw for an additional five hours, Baumann finally minted Women and Weapons in October 2021. They sold out in under four hours.
“The rest has kind of been history,” she says. Cliché, but true – Baumann was finally able to leave her hospital job in January, and has become the driving artistic voice of a community centered on questioning the double standards between men and women through jarring, lively portraits of women who boldly look viewers in the eye, challenging them with protruding tongues or hands full of ninja stars.
“People might pass a movie poster of a man holding a weapon and think nothing of it,” Baumann says. “Why is it that as soon as you're seeing a woman holding a weapon you have an issue with it?”
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These double standards apply in the NFT industry, where a notorious 2021 Art Tactic report showed women artists accounted for just 5% of NFT art sales. Baumann spoke with CoinDesk about how she hopes to challenge this status quo with her collection, the disturbing 1940s advertisements that inspired her work and how she’s using Women and Weapons to provide a non-violent “weapon” for women – education.
Before Women and Weapons, you painted your smaller genesis collection – but that was before you got into NFTs. How did you initially try and sell them?
It was mostly through Etsy. I tried to start my own website on, I think, Shopify, and was trying to market myself on Facebook and Instagram. It would be a post in the morning before I went to work and then a post in the evening, whenever I would get home. That's all I had time to do. My husband, recognizing that the collection meant a lot to me, urged me to mint my artwork as NFTs. It took a lot of time for me to research and really understand the space, especially given that I didn't have a ton of time to be researching.
I saw the tweet about you getting your big break from Gary Vaynerchuck. How did that happen?
Occasionally on Saturdays, he will post that he's looking for a new one-of-one artist to collect from. In my case, he had posted that he was looking for one-of-one artists who had unsold pieces to collect. I posted in his comments, “I'd love for you to be my first collector.” I attached some of my images in my link.
So he really helped launch your career in NFTs.
He not only helped me out, but is also helping a lot of other women as well. Not just artists, but also female businesspeople. For example, he has Avery Akkineni, who's the president of VaynerNFT. She’s the most incredible woman on planet Earth. He's been very supportive of a lot of women getting into Web 3, educating them, making sure that they have the opportunity to have high visibility roles.
There's that statistic going around about how 5% of art sales in the NFT space go to women artists. When you saw that were you surprised? Or were you more like, this makes sense based on what I've seen?
I think a little bit of both – a little bit of surprise, in that I didn’t anticipate the number would be so low. At the same time, I was, like, OK, this is fuel, let's go. This statistic is making me recognize there's a need for female representation in the space, but also a need for increased education about the space. In early to mid-2021 it was very much a boys’ club. A lot of women did feel very excluded.
We're still trying to achieve pay equality, and equality regarding female leaders in business, tech, law – so many different areas. The Web 3 space is such a brand-new frontier. We need to bring as many women as we possibly can in so that they don't miss this opportunity. Seeing what it did for me – the fact that I'm able to achieve my dreams of being a full-time artist – I want to invite women in not just to buy NFTs, not just to start their own NFT project, but to execute whatever superpower they have in Web 3 so that they can have a sustainable career and achieve financial independence.
What made you ultimately quit the hospital to go into Women and Weapons full-time?
First, I continued trying to work in the hospital at a PRN status, which essentially means as needed. I was working one to two days, usually weekends, until about January. My last day going into the hospital, I recognized that the whole time I was there I was thinking, ‘I have so much to do, I have so many emails to get back to, I've so many things that I need to accomplish.’
Of course, having a Middle Eastern mother, she was very much like, [putting on her mother’s accent] ‘Sara, you better not quit your job, you don't know how long this lasts.’ After enough months of working PRN and her recognizing that Women and Weapons really needed me full-time, she goes, [accent again] ‘Sara, I think you need to quit your job and maybe do Women and Weapons full-time.’ Wow, OK. Finally I get the green light from my mother.
In designing the collection, how did you come up with the women’s different traits?
First, I will say that designing an NFT collection is no easy feat. You have to make sure that everything matches up. But one of the things I wanted to encapsulate in the traits was having as much representation as possible, given that there are constraints in a generative collection. I was inspired by my manager, Carolyn, who has vitiligo, a skin condition that removes the pigmentation from your skin.
I created the Carolyn body, which represents women with vitiligo. I tried to represent a variety of hairstyles, hair textures, hair colors, skin colors, eye colors and I also wanted to choose names for the body traits that represented notable women throughout history. Not all of them are that – I have one named Lavenza, which is Frankenstein's wife.
I also wanted to choose weaponry that required manual power. We have a lot of brass knuckles, boxers’ wraps, nunchucks. It’s not firepower – it's more about the strength in the individual. That's what powers the weapon.
But your genesis collection has firepower.
Yes, yes. I wanted to choose weapons from different time periods – like the 1940s era. When women went into the workforce, it was surrounding the war.
My very first piece is the woman holding the grenade with the flowers coming out of it. I saw many ads from the 1940s and 1950s that put women down. There’s one shoe ad with a woman lying next to the shoes, and it says, ‘Keep her where she belongs.’ They're honestly super-upsetting, and a big part of why I wanted to portray women as powerful during that era. There's another ad of a man spanking his wife – he has her over his lap on a chair – and he's spanking her because she bought the wrong brand of coffee. I wanted to portray a woman of that advertising era holding that grenade in an almost satirical manner, but also removing the violence from it by adding the flowers. She's the one that really sparked my flame.
Do you get people who take issue with the possibility that your collection is promoting violence?
Art is meant to elicit a response. Would people have stopped and had a conversation or probed if it was a woman with cotton candy in her hand? Probably not. A big reason why I created the collection was to start conversations around equity, representation and double standards. I'm doing that by having something jarring. People often message me asking, ‘Why Women and Weapons, why not respect and equality?’ To which I answer them, ‘This is why. I want the opportunity to have this kind of a conversation with you.’
How did you choose which charity to donate 5% of your initial and secondary Women and Weapons sales to?
Sustainable change is important for me – so is the recognition that for a woman, education can be her weapon, especially in underserved nations where women often don't have that opportunity. Even gaining a semblance of an education can increase the likelihood for a woman to gain independence and begin her own career, which is part of why I chose the Malala Fund. She’s opening doors for women and children around the world to have that opportunity to go to school.
Do you have a favorite weapon that you chose to depict in the collection?
It’s not necessarily akin to Persian daggers, but the gold daggers are probably the closest to Persian daggers that I could get. Obviously, I'm Iranian. I love anything that's gold, so the gold weapons are my favorite. But the golden daggers are my absolute favorite, and I think that's heavily because of my cultural appreciation. If you look at some of the Ottoman daggers, they're very ornate and very beautiful. Not only were they used for power and status, but they were also art pieces.
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