On this episode of the Gallery Girl podcast my guests are Anna Seaman, Jen Stelco and Claire Harris from Morrow Collective, NFT curators based in Dubai. The first NFT platform from the UAE, Morrow Collective is bringing well established and experienced artists to the metaverse. Their debut exhibition Genesis is running online right now and marks the starting point for many of the featured artists into the world of crypto art.
For the uninitiated, an NFT is short form for a non-fungible token, an artistic medium that has taken over the 2021 art world with sensationalist headlines, which have largely been in response to an NFT artwork by Beeple which sold at Christie’s in March of $69 million. So, why are these “tokens” so valuable all of a sudden, and what are they?! “Before NFTs digital art really had no value because there was no way of making it scarce. It was reproducible and anybody could right-click-save”, says Jen, “Now, you can put that digital file on the blockchain in a process called tokenising. When you tokenise something you give it a signature which makes it authentic and one-of-a-kind, meaning that you can prove who the owner is. So although an NFT is still accessible to see and anybody can right-click save or screenshot, it’s very clear who the owner is. That ownership is what gives it value.”
Morrow Collective met because they are friends and neighbours in Dubai, all of whom have a connection to the art world. Anna is a journalist, Jen is a digital artist and Claire works in marketing. It was through Jen’s work with NFTs that the team first started to become interested in the medium, prompting them all to learn about the industry. They realised that what’s missing is gallery representation for mature artists in this space. “We worked out that because NFTs are very new, there are a lot of barriers to entry, especially because of the tech involved”, says Claire, “We thought if we could remove these boundaries and help artists and galleries become part of this space, it would be a really unique platform that’s actually missing in the market.”
As for the name, Morrow signifies NFTs being the art of the future, with the line in the logo representing digital: blockchain, crypto-currency and being online, there is also an emphasis with connecting the past with the future. The Collective’s first show Genesis is online on a multiple-level digital gallery space in the metaverse, a project that involved collaborating with dozens of galleries and artists across the world. “The first thing we did was create partnerships with galleries”, says Anna, “We pulled work from each of those galleries and sorted the works thematically. We had two buildings and five levels. Being in the metaverse, space is not really a problem.” The show includes sixty artworks across five themes, with a strong emphasis on curatorial narrative. Many of the artworks have been animated, which was done through help from Morrow. “We wanted to make this transition for the artists as seamless as possible”, explains Jen, “A lot of them had never touched on animating before. We worked with the team, so with the artists’ guidance I used my animation skills to pull-off what the artists were describing. A lot of them did their own animation and audio.” That said, although she was helping with the animation, Jen stresses that it is very much the artist’s who created the work, and was was providing technical support.
By the nature of it being digital, Morrow’s work and exhibitions are viewable to everyone, no matter where they are located. That said, the team is based in Dubai, so it was only natural to ask about the digital landscape in the UAE right now. “You mentioned something really important that it is accessible to everyone, we’re so keen to explore this platform because there are no boundaries. We can reach out to people all over the world and give them a bigger audience”, says Anna, “Dubai itself is a city that is constantly always updating itself. There are a lot of people here who are innovative and there is definitely a feeling in the city that a lot of people are interested in NFTs.” There are also spaces that are opening dedicated to digital art in the region and Morrow is planning a hybrid digital and physical exhibition set to open in the autumn. The show of seven artists will be called NFT-IRL at Firetti Contemporary, with screens showcasing the digital versions of physical works side-by-side. “This is a great opportunity to bridge the two worlds of digital and physical art”, says Claire, “And also to educate people about how they can fit into collecting and investment.” The Collective will also be explaining how people can purchase NFTs, while offering the physical pieces for sale as well.
Asking Morrow about standout artists in their first exhibition, the trio are hard-pressed to choose just one. They mention the likes of Sara Rahbar, Hazem Harb and Halim Al Karim. “What’s really exciting is reaching out to artists who have never exhibited internationally before”, says Anna, “We have an indigenous Australian artist who makes artwork from silk scarves who’s never reached out to international artists. We also have people like Jacques Vartabedian from Lebanon who’s really interested in reaching out into the NFT sphere, it’s something that gives him a lot of opportunity especially in a country that’s struggling at the moment, so for him to have other avenues to have a career out of art is really interesting.”
Anna, Claire and Jen are three impressive women with diverse backgrounds, now working in a relatively new area within the art world. When asked about advice for others following in their footsteps, Claire stresses the importance of taking the time to be aware of your skillset. “Don’t be afraid to ask for things, ask for help”, she says, “Find people who can join you on your journey. I’ve personally learnt how many people want to help.” She also recommends surrounding yourself with likeminded people. Anna also adds that ever since Covid we’re living in a very different world. “It’s a decentralised world. The whole system around NFTs and cryptocurrencies is about decentralising things and moving away from big sources of power”, she says, “It’s a really good time to be opportunistic and to go for it yourself rather than to look at everyone else. You don’t have to rely on the big systems of power to give you an in.” And, specifically NFT related, Jen stresses that Twitter is the app of choice for those looking to attract buyers of non-fungible tokens.
As for the future, Morrow Collective hopes to have their own fully developed platform where they can whitelist galleries to mint their art on behalf of their artists on their platform. At the moment, the Collective has an OpenSea storefront and a metaverse gallery, but down the line they strive to have their own digital minting space. “We also really want to make it our mission to not just sell to established NFT collectors, we really want to bring in traditional art collectors and introduce younger generations to art collecting”, says Jen, “What I would love to see is an old school traditional art collector jumping on board, we can hold their hand through the whole process, show them how to buy their first NFT and then buy themselves a digital screen and put it in their home amongst their physical collection.” And, in the immediate future, Morrow Collective are planning a new exhibition in September and will have three to four shows per year.
*It is important to also note that Morrow Collective is off-setting all of the carbon associated with the production of their NFTs