When Sydney artist Serwah Attafuah senses an idea forming, she doesn’t sketch out a plan, or make initial drawings. She goes straight into creating as fast as she can. “Otherwise I feel like I’ve lost the spark,” she says.
Attafuah, who is also a skilled musician, never planned for a career in art. “My parents are both artists,” she says. “[But] I never really made a decision to be like ‘I'm going to just do art’.”
She began with oil painting but found it limiting. “Unless you have a lot of money, a big studio or somebody backing you, it's hard to get all the ideas out onto just a canvas with just paint” she says. “With digital art it’s something you can do anywhere.”
The shift from oil painting to commercial and digital work began with the occasional request to lend her vibrant, dreamy and futuristic works to poster designs or album covers. And when people and brands like Nike, Paris Hilton and Charli XCX (“We Facetimed and went back and forth trying to find an intersection between her previous work and my work. [She was] trying to reclaim her power in terms of her artwork in her music, and then combining it with my worlds”) reached out about collaborating, it quickly transitioned into a full-time job.
This style of work meant Attafuah was primed for the growing digital art space – and related industry that has now seen it blossom into the world of NFTs (non-fungible tokens), which – to distil them to their simplest form – are digital artworks that can be bought and sold online.
“Basically it’s a digital asset I've signed, just like I would sign a painting or a print,” says Attafuah. “It's great to be involved in something that's changing so rapidly. I don't think I've ever seen something, especially in the art world, move so fast.”
They’re not without controversy – many people question those paying high prices for a digital image, which is simple to replicate online. But NFTs have undoubtedly changed the way digital artists are seen and valued. “Before NFTs I probably could have counted the amount of exhibitions I was in on one hand,” says Attafuah.
Attafuah is one of the artists whose work will be showcased at NFT: Illuminated, a new exhibition in The Galeries. Attafuah will be displaying her first solo animated NFT, an artwork titled Oracles. “[It’s] loosely about a sort of technocratic [Orwellian] 1984 world where everybody's watching you, but in a more light-hearted way,” she says. “It’s carrying out a lot of themes of the work I've been doing this year. [But] what I love about talking to people about my work, is hearing their take on what I was up to. [They] see things maybe I didn't even see my own pictures.”
The rise of NTFs have also lent credibility to the digital art world. “It’s sick to see larger artists or brands embrace not just my work, but digital art in general,” says Attafuah. “It's fantastic. I'm super stoked about it because I have been creating digital art for probably over a decade. It was always like we were the outsiders from the art world. People saw us as content creators, because they didn't know where [else] it would fit. So it's great to actually have these sorts of opportunities to sell and distribute our work and get recognised.”
NFT: Illuminated is on at The Galeries until Wednesday 5 January, 2022.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with The Galeries.