During creator Linda Dounia's early foray into NFTs, she couldn’t help but notice that there were not many artists from her home in Senegal participating in the space. Her long term hope is to create room for African digital artists to thrive with a market that’s all their own. Cyber Baat is her first action toward realizing that goal. Cyber Baat is a physical exhibition organized by Linda, featuring 23 artists from around the world. The exhibition opens on Wednesday, September 15 in Dakar, along with a selection of debut NFT auctions on Foundation.
But Cyber Baat is more than an exhibition—eventually, Linda wants to establish a CyberBaatDAO that will pool resources to fund creative projects by African and first-generation African artists. NFTs and crypto afford new opportunities to expand beyond the limitations of old world funding models and Linda wants to leverage these new technologies to fund projects and garner support for communities of artists that she believes in.
Ahead of the opening, we spoke with Linda about the origins of Cyber Baat and her visions for the future of the DAO.
Baat means “voice” in Wolof, and it is a reference to the voices from the African community and diaspora. The market that currently exists for our art is so bare. If you're from the diaspora, obviously you face a lot of challenges, and there are opportunities that might be accessible to people from the diaspora, that might still not necessarily be accessible to us. I recognized that there's a huge gap and a need for an institution to bring in emerging artists from the continent into the world of NFTs by giving them backing and a platform.
The work I am doing is deeply rooted work that needs to be supported with a space of its own. Also, there wasn’t a physical gallery to exhibit NFTs on the continent, so I saw that as an opportunity to establish one and represent the values of cryptocurrency and decentralization through community building.
The community aspect of organizing an exhibition has been really beautiful. Any question I have, there's always someone who can answer it. If they can’t answer, then they probably know someone who can.
Secondly, the curation aspect has been really fun. I enjoyed figuring out which artists to include in the exhibition. I try to understand the “why” in all of their works, and come up with a narrative to tie them all together. One challenge is that there are so many incredible artists I want to work with, but after reflecting on the theme, I wanted to be able to curate a coherent experience. For our first exhibition, I landed on Distorted Realities, because many of the artists are taking their existing realities and creating work that makes us question it. So many of the systems that take us for granted were designed by humans, and by rethinking them, and critiquing them through art, we’re able to find common ground.
The best advice I’ve received is to always just ask, and never assume you know something. We’re still so early in the process of NFT adoption throughout the world, that when you reach out to people, a lot of them are gracious enough to help.
My second word of advice is to be bold in your visions and creativity. The technology follows the vision in terms of this space—take that and make whatever you’d like from it.
Third, don't expect everything to take off immediately. You might have to wait a few months, but having the patience and grit to keep going is crucial because if you believe in it, others will see that too. Even if your expectations don’t go as planned, the process of just doing will always be fulfilling every step of the way.
I'm going to give you the most crypto answer ever, which is that we’re all going to figure it out as we go, together. I don't know what that will look like. What I can say is what I wanted to do personally, because I also want one part of the vision to be shaped by the artists themselves. In my mind, it’s a very simple equation: right now there’s a ton of creativity on the continent and there’s an opportunity like we’ve never had before to make money outside of the Fiat system. There’s a tremendous amount of freedom here.
I want to focus on emerging artists. To me, it’s not necessarily about giving the person who’s already gotten that stamp of approval more, I'm interested in giving people their first break. I’m interested in small games, like being able to pay your rent in full for a year, and creating a project using that space. If Cyber Baat gives even one artist their first break, and they gain the confidence to make a living as an artist, that has real financial returns—that would also be huge for a continent that's been known to have so much culture, and so much diversity of perspective on what art means. That’s the ultimate vision in five to 10 years.
There’s only a handful of artists who “make it” from the continent, and they are the cream of the crop in the traditional art world. In the NFT space, it doesn't have to be that way. In some ways, IX Shells and Sarah Zucker are the blueprints, and I want there to be many more artists like them.
Yes, all of them. There are 23 artists in the show, and every single one of them is a delight. I also love that they're really supportive of each other’s work.
For me, this first group represents how others artists should aspire to be—it’s not just about the art, but they all really care about our community. One other quality to note is that all of the artists represent the ideas of communitarianism and Pan-Africanism in their ways of being. I want the people who are ambassadors of Cyber Baat to embody the best of the values in the crypto space. Supporting others and giving back are both equally important and exciting to me.