Russians using crypto to bypass Moscow block on Ukraine donations — The Crypto Mile

Watch: The Crypto Mile: Episode 4 How NFT art and activism is responding to a world in crisis

NFTs have become a powerful tool for art and activism, responding to the tumultuous events of 2022 with their unique ability to exist beyond the control of centralised authorities.

On Episode 4 of The Crypto Mile, I am joined by the rising star of the NFT art world Emily Yang, aka Pplpleasr, musician and political activist Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot, and legendary frontman of Public Image Ltd and The Sex Pistols, John Lydon.

This episode sees the contributors discuss how NFTs are being used for art, activism and as a creative tool to respond to a world in crisis.

We are halfway through 2022 and the fragility of our world is becoming painfully evident.

Climate Change is starting to manifest with record heatwaves recorded across the planet, forecasts of recession have been called by economists, and the war in Ukraine not only threatens supply chains, but also world food security.

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Into the prevailing woes come NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, a blockchain-based innovation launched in 2015.

NFTs are "non-fungible", meaning they cannot be replaced with something else.

An example of this would be an oil painting by Van Gogh, the painting is a one-off, it cannot be equally replaced by another oil painting. Each painting has a unique value.

However, a one-dollar bill is fungible and can be traded for another one-dollar bill, they have equal value.

NFTs are "smart contracts" that record ownership of a piece of artwork, or an asset and are stored and traded on a blockchain. The Ethereum (USD-ETH) blockchain has the most volume, but other networks have grown their NFT markets, such as Solana (SOL-USD), Cardano (ADA-USD) and Polygon (MATIC-USD).

NFTs are now being used as a tool by artists and activists to support various causes from raising the profile of female and non-binary artists, to raising funds for Ukraine, to improving the wellbeing of people living with dementia.

Step into The Crypto Mile and consider whether NFTs are more than just multi-million dollar collections of cartoon apes.

Nadya Tolokonnikova, a member of Russian punk rock group Pussy Riot, sits for a photograph February 26, 2022. Picture taken February 26, 2022. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon
Nadya Tolokonnikova, a member of Russian punk rock group Pussy Riot. Photograph: Jeenah Moon/Reuters.

Nadya Tolokonnikova and Unicorn DAO

Leading political activist and member of Pussy Riot Nadya Tolokonnikova told The Crypto Mile that NFTs can make powerful statements of civil disobedience and protest.

Tolokonnikova co-founded Ukraine DAO, which raised $6.75m (£5.66m) in ethereum in five days for organisations that help Ukrainians suffering from the war that has devastated their country. The funds were raised by selling an NFT depicting the Ukrainian flag.

Speaking on Episode 4 of The Crypto Mile, she said NFTs can be used to advance political causes: "Ukraine DAO has actually allowed a lot of people from Russia to donate to Ukraine, otherwise they would not have been able to send money because it is blocked by the Russian banking system."

Although the blockchain is a publicly visible distributed ledger recording all transactions in a transparent way, the system is out of reach of centralised authority and the crypto wallets that send and receive funds can remain anonymous.

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"When you raise money for activism it is often for very sensitive topics that can potentially lead to trouble, so crypto can provide a layer of anonymity," Tolokonnikova said.

The provocative co-founder of art-activist group Pussy Riot also launched Unicorn DAO in May of this year.

Co-founded by Tolokonnikova, Unicorn DAO has pledged to use the NFT space to "redistribute wealth and visibility in order to create equality for women-identified and LGBTQ+ people".

The movement cites a report from 2021 by ArtTactic, that found only 5% of NFT sales were by female-identified artists.

Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin said in a statement on Unicorn DAO's website: “One silver lining of the Ukraine situation is that it has reminded a lot of people in the crypto space that ultimately the goal of crypto is not to play games with million-dollar pictures of monkeys, it’s to do things that accomplish meaningful effects in the real world".

John Lydon of Public Image Ltd. performs at the Coachella Music Festival in Indio, California April 16, 2010. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni  (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT PROFILE)
John Lydon of Public Image Ltd performing at the Coachella music festival in Indio, California. Photograph: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters.

John Lydon of The Sex Pistols launches NFT collection

John Lydon needs very little introduction, from his beginnings in The Sex Pistols to his fronting of post-punk band Public Image Ltd, he has always been pushing the boundaries of creativity.

The most famous protagonist of the punk movement has now moved into the world of NFTs with a collection of 100 intimate pieces of artwork.

A percentage of the sale of each NFT will go to The Spitz Charitable Trust in Islington, to help people suffering from dementia.

The carbon emissions from the minting of each NFT will be offset by The Phantom Planters of Ireland. This is a group of "guerilla gardeners" who create fruit forests in communities throughout Ireland, and reforest the landscape depleted by years of intensive agriculture.

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The NFT launch is called Anger is an NFT, with Lydon describing himself with a smile as being "associated with anger all my life".

He describes each NFT as "a direct communication between my brain and the world".

Every NFT sold comes with a hand-signed, printed copy of the original artwork.

There are just 100 NFTs in the collection and they were created from a singular piece of art.

The frontman who shook the establishment with songs such as God Save the Queen and Anarchy in the UK added: "It’s my art, broken apart. Not computer generated, and not everyone understands it."

Lydon's NFTs are currently open for bids on the Rarible NFT marketplace.

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 27: Emily Yang attends the photocall for Kering Women In Motion Talks: Emily Yang during the 75th annual Cannes film festival at Majestic Hotel on May 27, 2022 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Joe Maher/Getty Images)
Emily Yang at the Kering Women in motion talks during Cannes film festival in 2022. Photograph: Joe Maher/Getty

Emily Yang (aka Pplpleasr) and the launch of the Shibuya NFT platform

Emily Yang, who goes by her pseudonym pplpleasr, is one of the world’s major NFT artists and a member of the influential PleasrDAO, a collective of DeFi (decentralised finance) leaders, early NFT collectors and digital artists.

Yang describes herself as a "multidisciplinary artist with a focus on web3, NFTs, crypto, DAOs, and philanthropy".

Her work inspired the formation PleasrDAO and helped define the aesthetic of the DeFi movement. She made the famous "Crypto vs Wall St" Fortune Magazine cover and has collaborated with Steve Aoki and Sotheby’s to launch a fund to support upcoming female artists.

Recently she founded Shibuya, a decentralised video platform that helps fund indie creative projects.

Watch: The Crypto Mile: Episode 3 How blockchain technology could usher in Web3