Art, Politics & Society

What Chadwick Boseman’s Oscars NFT Blunder Reveals About What Digital Art Can — And Should — Do

On April 26, 2021, the world tuned in to watch the Oscars. Like with previous years’ Oscars, this year had its own fair share of criticism. But one criticism stood out and would probably never happened in the first place if it weren’t for the NFT craze earlier this year. As part of a fundraising effort in the name of the late Chadwick Boseman, Nomine(ETH) commissioned artist Andre Oshea to create a digital artwork inspired by the actor. Initially thought to be created as part of gift bags to the Oscars’ nominees, the effort was only tangentially related to the Oscars.

The artwork received many criticisms, ranging from the distaste of profiting off of a man no longer living to the allegedly stolen 3D model the artist used. (Andre Oshea did purchase a license for the model of Boseman’s head from a 3D asset site, but some people claim the site stole the model.) In response, Oshea announced that he will be creating a new work that will also be auctioned as an NFT with the proceed going to the Colon Cancer Foundation, which works to fight the disease that took Boseman’s life. 

While his initial work had gorgeous animation that was partially inspired by Boseman’s role as the superhero Black Panther, it comes off as nothing more than a gold statue of the actor’s head. Historically, gold statues of any figurehead aren’t well received. It brings about images of dictators or those who consider themselves gods. While many of us respect Boseman as a beloved figure, none of us thinks he should be deified. “Chadwick was never about being exclusive or aloof, and to condense and commodify such a monumental life and talent into a party favor for Hollywood elite felt hollow and tactless,” says Kyle Denis, a cultural critic and founder of the Black Boy Bulletin blog.

Oshea’s new work is exemplary of the direction we can push the digital medium as art. “A Young Boy’s Dream” (2021) shows a looping animation of a sprightly young Black boy walking through a dream world inspired by the one depicted in the film Black Panther. As he walks, he passes by symbols that represent some of the achievements of Boseman’s life: his graduation from Howard University, his marriage to his wife Simone Ledward Boseman, and the various iconic roles he’s had. As per the artwork’s title, these are but some of the things a young boy can dream about — and achieve — in his life.

This dynamic, meaningful artwork is exactly what is so exciting about digital art. While it’s not impossible to create a physical artwork that would convey the same exact meaning, it’s certainly more difficult. The fact that the work is also accessible by anyone with internet access and not just those physically around to see it means this artwork can inspire a much bigger audience, just like Chadwick Boseman himself. Art isn’t just a gold statue or a still image anymore. It’s inspiring and full of life and possibilities.

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