Internet Culture Interviews Visual Arts

Edozié Izegbu is making digital art real

[id: a picture of Edozié dressed smartly]

When I sit down with Edozié, my cracked glass screen protector and 4000 miles between us, he immediately greets me with the smile of a man who knows he’s onto something, though the rest of the world hasn’t quite realised it yet. It’s 9pm in Dubai, but the time nor his twenty-six years seem to weigh him down. He tells me that he often works over the weekend – and by that, he means the whole weekend

It’s unsurprising given that he’s juggling a Masters at Kellogg College, Oxford, whilst being the founder and Managing Director of a brand spanking new company, Chimera. Before that he was living in Silicon Valley whilst working on his own projects – and taking a Harvard degree remotely. So he’s used to multitasking.

“It can be my worst quality, the way I push myself…but you could also count it as a positive.” 

His background in software engineering makes him a problem solver, and when there are a lot of problems to solve – well, there’s a lot of work to be done.

Edozié was a bit of a creative when he was younger, making things with his hands in Design Technology at school. It’s perhaps too easy to draw a line from this to his establishment of a new arts platform, a gratification on both aesthetic and business fronts. But as he tells me about the arts platform he’s setting up, he can’t stray away from talking about how he only wants carefully curated art on the site. He’s not in it for the gimmickry: crypto-backed art is a revolution for him.

Chimera is essentially a three-pronged approach to the digital and physical art world. It started life as an editorial platform, publishing content on up-and-coming artists from across the globe with a focus on experimentalism and digital art. But it is currently morphing into a multifaceted being, offering both agency representation for artists and a marketplace for the acquisition of digital and physical art alongside its journalistic offerings. The mythological reference of its name is certainly a nice touch, but don’t be fooled: this company has one foot in the twenty-first century and no feet in the past. 

“I even worked for a couple of months as a contractor for Blockchain.com” 

Izegbu started buying Bitcoin when it was at 1% of the level it is today. As a computer scientist he was deep into the world before the rest of us, fascinated by it from a technical standpoint as well as an economic one. He throws out the term crypto-economics and talks about his first university experience, doing econ. 

His dad was an inspiration, immersed in the business world shuttling around between high-level meetings. He didn’t let Edozié sit in on every one, but that only added to the intrigue. He graduated from the school of puberty with a strong sense of entrepreneurship and made his way through a number of ventures before landing here.

His first foray into start-ups was the Nigerian League of Gamers, an organisation intending to promote and organise the then-nascent eSports scene and get Nigerian prodigies onto the world stage. At 17, whilst doing his AS Levels, he was already coming up with “solutions” to problems – the problem here perhaps being anticipated too far in advance. He regrets not riding the wave of popularity in competitive gaming and bringing the project to fruition.

This time around, he’ll have no such issues. 2021 has been the year of NFTs, with the legendary $69 million Beeple sale making art history. The digital art piece – a collage of the artist’s often politically charged former works, was sold at Christie’s to an unknown buyer. Perhaps it will become a keepsake when virtual ownership becomes mainstream.

“It’s truly in the eye of the beholder. It’s up to the individual what the value is to them” 

NFTs are a means of certifying the originality of a piece of art independent of its physical qualities. With traditional art, authorial provenance is ascertained by an expert eye, or, more recently, by conducting complex chemical and electromagnetic analysis of the surface and many phantom layers of paint that lie beneath. What Chimera intends to do is guarantee the originality of an art piece through digital tokens – Non-Fungible ones to be precise – which are unique and entirely irreplicable. Unlike a physical art piece, a digital work cannot be legitimised through any interrogative analysis; at least not easily. This has necessitated the creation of a new means of certification – one which limits the supply of “real” works and thus allows the artist, or reseller, to profit off of any demand that may arise. Without NFTs, digital art’s greatest selling point also ironically undermines its market. On the one hand, its visual elements are perfectly replicable, and so all the creativity can be channelled into the aesthetic take or the concept, rather than being heavily dependent upon the shape of one’s technique. On the other, for all the effort put into creating something new, it can be Xeroxed a thousand times over by simply copying the code or the file. So no matter what the demand is, there is infinite supply, and works can often be accessed for free thanks to piracy.

Non-Fungible Tokens, as they are properly known, might not set your world on fire, but as Edozié says, they transform the nature of art and of ownership. With a unique cryptographic token tied somehow to each piece, verification becomes a whole different issue, and as long as the two are not separated, digital artists can finally make an income from a notoriously uneven field without feeling like they’re being exploited. The twist with Chimera is that these tokens will be applied to physical art pieces as well – stored in a giant air-conditioned warehouse in Dubai – and so even conventional fine art can have its originality etched into the blockchain. 

“The qualitative features of art don’t necessarily have to be physical – and that’s the truth.”

The art market has been posting double-digit gains on average secondary sales for many years now, and as writers that compare their investment potential to that of Ferraris and Birkin bags like to claim, it often offers better returns than the stock market. In an age of increasing inequality, digital art platforms, like the art itself, cut both ways. Yes, they do offer more opportunities for capital accumulation to the super-wealthy, but they also allow someone to own “proper”, original art at a lower-than-average cost, in addition to supporting creatives that are immersed in the computerised realm pop culture now finds itself in. One might also add that the traditional big-buyers in the art market (who are increasingly based in Asia and in particular China) veer toward staples, known quantities. Anything painted by a living artist is seen as having a less-than-certain value, let alone pieces that only exist virtually.

To others, the vivacity of this new industry is a boon, and Edozié is clearly excited about it. He is part of a new generation of entrepreneurs ushering in a second epoch of digitalisation – the part where the virtual stands alongside the real. It’s becoming easier and easier to equate our online spaces with physical ones. Social media serves as our debate chamber, Wikipedia as our library, and Google Images as our picture gallery. Why can’t the blockchain store our art collection too?

To watch the in-depth interview click here

Ollie (any pronouns) is a student writer based in Oxford and London. He has been Editor for Global Affairs and Interviews for "The Oxford Blue", and ran one of The Blue's most successful events. In 2020 he co-ran a COVID-19 think-tank, "How The World Recovers". He helps produce an arts editorial for Chimera, a cryptoasset investment startup. He is now the incoming President for "The BSHR", an interdisciplinary humanities journal. His work has been featured in numerous publications, including "The Oxford Student", "The Cherwell", and "Oxford Strategy Review", and he hopes to move into international affairs analysis in the future.