Russian Artists to Sell NFTs to Support Journalists Under Pressure

Russian digital artists will sell NFTs to support Meduza, a media outlet designated as a "foreign agent" by the Kremlin.

AccessTimeIconMay 25, 2021 at 9:02 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 1:01 p.m. UTC

NFT artists are launching a digital art auction in support of Meduza, a prominent Russian media outlet that recently fell under pressure from the authorities.

Meduza announced the auction on Tuesday alongside two groups of artists: NFT Bastards and Non-Fungible Females. Eighty-one artists from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan will participate in the creation of two collages, made of video clips and pictures dedicated to Meduza. The NFTs will be sold on Rarible on May 27.  

Sasshhaaaart, a female artist from Moscow who hatched the idea, told CoinDesk she thought of assembling artists for the project when she learned that Meduza started a fundraiser after it was designated a “foreign agent” – a label that hurt the outlet both financially and reputationally. 

Censorship is a concern artists and journalists in Russia share, Sashaaaart said. 

“It’s not normal when a painter, an artist, a musician, a writer or a journalist is afraid to express themselves. Nobody wants a black mark to be put by their name and then get persecuted,” she said.

Light in the dark 

“It was not even our idea,” Meduza Editor-in-Chief Ivan Kolpakov told CoinDesk. “After we were deemed a foreign agent, the next day NFT artists were reaching out to us via all possible channels. It’s like a beam of light in the dark.”

Meduza has been struggling with its new status as a “foreign agent” since April, when Russia’s Ministry of Justice gave it that designation. The editorial team told its readers in a statement that the ominous label scared away advertisers and spurred Meduza to drastically cut expenses, including reporters’ salaries. 

“We lost all our advertising clients in one week, our plan for the annual revenue went to zero at once,” Kolpakov said. “And then the fundraiser started.” 

In late April, Meduza launched donations in fiat and crypto, becoming one of the few media outlets in Russia that use cryptocurrencies. The crypto community appeared keen on the idea: In less than a month, Meduza received multiple donations worth around 0.88 BTC and 22 ETH in total, or almost $90,000 by Tuesday’s prices.  

According to Kolpakov, over 80,000 people donated during the past month. 

Now, the journalists want to tap another kind of crypto donation – an NFT sale. 

“Our goal is to raise some money, drive attention to our fundraiser and tell people about a very vivid NFT community that emerged in Russia,” Kolpakov said. 

Music, paint and police batons

Along with NFT artists, the project includes collaboration from the popular electronic band Aigel, which produced a soundtrack for the video NFT, famous TV journalist Leonid Parfenov, who did a voice-over for it, and the artist Artem Loskutov. 

Loskutov is a founder of the Monstration movement, when people in Russian cities would go on the street with absurd and hilarious signs, like “Now what?” – or not so funny ones like "Forward to a dark past." 

For the Meduza auction, Loskutov created a special edition of his dubinopis, or “baton drawing” series, in which he draws Russian, American or Belarus national flags national flags by striking a canvas with a police baton smeared with paint. 

“I made a painting and filmed it: a baton is striking the canvas, the traces of paint compose the logo of Meduza,” Loskutov said. 

A fragment of the clip will become a part of the joint video composition, and the actual, physical painting will be sold separately on Loskutov’s Facebook page, Loskutove said. Proceeds will go to Meduza.

“I want to support the media outlet that is being attacked by the state and is under risk of closing. I myself used to work in three media outlets of this kind, and only one of them survived. I hope the journalists will fend off this attack and want to help them,” Loskutov said.

This is not the first time Russian contemporary artists launched an NFT sale to support social causes. In March, co-founder of the Pussy Riot music bank Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sold a series of video NFTs to support a shelter for domestic violence survivors.

At the end of the day, everyone can become a victim of political censorship and repression, said Konstantin Groub, one of the artists taking part in the project: 

“If they are coming after independent journalists, they will one day come after artists, and anyone who voices dissent.”


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