What if you didn’t have to wait for European and American museums to repatriate African artifacts? Reflecting on this question, Chidi Nwaubani, the founder of the NFT Looty project, decided to take matters into his own hands with his Looty project, which bills itself as a “digital rendition project”.
“Our ‘looters’ [anonymous team members] go to museums (physically) and collect the works (digitally),” reads a description on its website. To do this, the people behind the project digitize the works and create digital renderings which are then transformed into NFTs.
The Benin Bronzes, a group of thousands of artefacts looted from the Kingdom of Benin in 1897 by British troops, have recently been repatriated to museums in Europe and the United States. Six NFTs based on some of them are available for sale via Looty at a starting price of 0.99 ETH ($1,936).
Released on May 13, none of the Benin Bronze NFTs have yet been sold. The plan is to use 20% of proceeds funds to provide a grant to a young African artist.
Like so many NFT projects, especially those with a charitable component, the conceptual strength of the work is one that is activated by market success. But as the parts languish unsold, the promise of return and repair falls a bit flat.
Looty is not the first NFT project to attempt to return funds to Africans. HB Antwerp, a Belgian diamond company, launched a metaverse company called Signum which released a series of NFTs. Signum announced earlier in May that a portion of the proceeds from this project will be used to raise funds for mining communities in Botswana.
Described as “an innovative brand of rough diamonds,” the company sold an NFT project called cryptobunnies, each designed to look like a rough diamond, for $10,000 each. A convoluted reward system offered holders “metadiamonds” and other benefits. An unknown portion of the royalties is to be channeled to a women’s leadership group in Botswana.
“Right now, diamond mining areas are seeing a lot of their wealth flowing offshore because the diamonds aren’t being processed where they are,” said Signum co-founder Shai de- Toledo, in a press release. “Investing in education and local diamond production increases the amount of money going to mining communities. Whether physical diamonds or NFTs, Signum’s philosophy is to make production fully responsible and to ensure that everyone involved in the supply chain can be properly rewarded.
Ultimately, a small NFT project overseen by a diamond start-up may not be a one-size-fits-all response to the realities of the mining industry’s impact on some communities in Botswana. In contrast, while it may ultimately be slightly ineffective, the Looty NFT project is a project determined to provide Africans with a much-needed form of catharsis.