The popular narrative around web3 has been depressingly limited in geographical scope. "There's tons of cool stuff happening all over the world, but there's a very US-centric — and to some extent Eurocentric—ownership of the narrative," Refraction's Kaitylin Davies told me. "Which, if you ask me, stands to repeat a lot of failed promises of the web2 internet."
In its own modest way, the global reach of Refraction's Season 02/03 Creative Grants program provides a step in an alternate direction. It points to a potential future for web3: a diverse group of voices, existing in both real and virtual space, creating projects that transcend current conversations around creativity on the blockchain.
"I was looking at all the artists that are onboarding web3 and using cool technologies or launching NFTs. At the end of the day, they all seem to be a certain similar kind of artist, mostly based out of the West," said Anup Kutty, cofounder of India's Ziro Festival Of Music. "It just felt like, OK, I don't see why these technologies–these tools–can't be used for artists from where I'm from."
For a decade now, Ziro Festival Of Music has brought in an international list of artists to perform in the Ziro valley, a green patch of land located within the northeast Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. Since 2020, they have partnered with the Welsh festival Focus Wales on a project called Ziro Focus, which helps to facilitate intercontinental collaborations between Indian and Welsh musicians. Refraction will work with Ziro Focus on the final step in a fruitful joint effort between the Indian Manipuri folk artist Mangka and the Welsh singer Eädyth—the release of their finished song as an NFT.
Like many of Refraction's global collaborations, Ziro Focus's NFT has a narrative scope that goes beyond a pixelated avatar. It's the story of two artists from disparate geographical backgrounds, brought together through technology and finding commonalities in music. "I don't think something like this has happened before in India," Kutty said. "So it's really exciting."
Regionality plays a major role in Some Of Us, a festival based in Marrakech, Morocco. The content of the festival—visual art and musical performances and panel discussions, all with a focus on local creators—will be permanently preserved after the fact on the blockchain. "In Morocco, we have a very oral tradition," Some Of Us's Anbar El Mokri said. "We wanted to have something that stays immutably on-chain, so that's why we're going to have an archive."
Beyond the festival, El Mokri, who is part of Refraction's DAO, sees potential in using web3 systems as a conduit for further collaboration and community building. "Having a structure like a micro-DAO could create the right environment or the right context for people to collaborate with one another," El Mokri told me. "To have the shared ownership of what they produce, and change the context that they're in normally."
A change of context is key to the goals of African NFT Community, an incubator that aims to champion African artists, both on the continent and beyond. They had their first physical exhibition last March in Chicago and then a second one at this year's NFT.NYC. For their third IRL gathering, they will partner with Refraction to throw a community event at this year's Art Basel Miami. "We want to continue to give African and African Diasporan artists the chance to be present and represented at the major art and web3 events," African NFT Community's Abieyuwa said. "[It's a] chance that may not have existed beforehand."
Another African creative grantee is the Johannesburg, South Africa-based Bubblegum Club. The organization started in 2015 as a "cultural intelligence agency" and has since grown to become an online publication, production studio, agency and gallery space. Their project with Refraction will center around Ghostland, a new music vertical and metaverse.
Bubblegum Club's Zahra Doola calls Ghostland a "pulsing archive" that "draws from the sites, sounds and haunted-memory-landscapes of South African sonic genealogies rooted in a Black radical tradition and aesthetics." It made its premiere last February with a performance from gqom artist Griffit Vigo. "With our project under the Refraction Creative Grants Program we are interested in fully embedding ourselves in the [web3] space," Doula said. "But [we] still feel as though we are just scraping the surface with this project."
Like Bubblegum Club's Ghostland, the Singapore-based Endless Return is music-driven: the group describes themselves as a "renegade rave experiment that emerged at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic." Endless Return has used Zoom as a tool to throw bedroom dance parties and showcase digital art. The group now plans to use resources from Refraction's Creative Grant to fund an integrated web3 rave using the NFT platform OpenSea.
Endless Return's core mission is inextricably tied to its geography, "There are so many untapped talents imploding in Southeast Asia that remain undervalued and undermined," the group's Hilary Yeo said. "In an Anglo-centric and bordered world where we are pressured to keep things clearly defined (and governable), and where things are always perceived in closed binaries, ER wants to dissolve all of that gatekeeping and narrow-mindedness."
In Place Of War is a global charity that exists to provide support for "changemakers" in sites of conflict. The organization describes changemakers as locals who use art and creativity as a conduit for change within their community. Their collaboration with Refraction is centered around the development of a community center and creative hub in the Faro neighborhood of Medellín, Colombia, in collaboration with the interdisciplinary cultural group Elemento Illegal.
For a group like Elemento Illegal, geographic realities can make certain transactions difficult, borderline impossible. "In Medellín it's really hard to get any equipment in and out of the country, like DJ equipment," Davies explained. In this climate, where the simple act of shipping a poster becomes a major undertaking, web3 has the ability to provide an alternate revenue source, one that can potentially help to sustain larger community-based missions. "I think that's a hard thing for people in the Western world to wrap their heads around," Davies continued. "So, NFTs are a huge unlock for the selling of digital art."
If there's one thing that connects the lives of artists globally, it is probably a general sense of economic precarity. Web3 could be a potential pathway to financial security in a world filled with shifting institutional frameworks–a common reality no matter where an artist might be located. "The ultimate goal is that artists can live from their art. That's all we want," El Mokri said. "So, if web3 can provide that, can provide additional resources for these artists that are in Morocco or elsewhere–then, great, we're happy."
Lead image of DJ Kaddy courtesy of Bubblegum Club.
Explore here for more info on these and other Refraction Season 02/03 Grant recipients.
To chat with the creatives behind these incredible projects, members of Refraction can head over to our creative-grants-forum on our Discord server where we highlight all 24 Creative Grants projects. Links to the forums for projects featured in this piece are below:
Some of Us
African NFT Community
In Place of War
Non-members can join Refraction to jump into these and future conversations on Discord.