Recently I had a call with Beeple about an exciting opportunity - to showcase my artwork at his gallery opening in Charleston. I had never been to Charleston before, nor did I desire to go there; however, this seemed like an incredible opportunity I couldn't miss. As an artist, I was thrilled to show my work and make connections in a new place.
Beeple, for those who don't know, is an American digital artist who makes art about politics and pop culture. In 2021, one of his NFT collections called "Everydays: the First 500 Days" sold for almost $70 million at Christie's, which makes it the fourth most expensive artwork by any living artist.
I discussed the offer to be in the show and questioned whether or not I would get taken care of for traveling out of my way. The answer was no; instead, I was offered a discount on my stay at a hotel nearby. Although it wasn't much considering the trouble I'd be taking and the cost of travel, something in my heart told me this was worth discussing for other reasons.
I've known Beeple since 2017; we first met at Adobe MAX. He was one of the most impressive artists I had ever encountered, and over dinner, we discussed our love for cannabis and joked about various silly topics.
However, there were red flags here and there - though Trump was running for president then, he was getting close to somebody who outwardly supported him; this made me uneasy.
As the years passed, I saw Beeple at different events, but when Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) became popular, I took notice of his newfound success. As a person generally aware of current affairs, however, I couldn't overlook some of his art pieces like 'It's Fun to Draw Black People' which prompted controversy in the community.
Alarming, but I guess it's understandable that if someone spends 10+ years creating drawings every day, they're bound to come up with something ignorant - especially considering Beeple was a white guy who loved the Internet.
The internet has a long and troubled history of racism, from racist comment threads to discriminatory hiring practices. This racial discrimination can manifest itself in a variety of forms, including the lack of representation of people of color in tech roles, the blocking or de-platforming African American accounts on social media sites, and even bigotry in gaming communities.
This kind of systemic racism is perpetuated by both explicit discrimination and implicit bias, which can make it difficult to identify and address.
Web3 has become increasingly populated with "crypto bros" who are interested in cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, typically for profit. This is concerning as it can lead to an environment where there is limited inclusion and diversity, leading to a lack of creativity and different perspectives on how Web3 should evolve and grow.
So I wasn't shocked when I learned Beeple had scapegoated a successful Black woman in the web3 space by refusing to show up for a publicly-shared conversation about the issues from his Everydays collection. The incident reminded me of another photographer I had invited into a space, but eventually, he dropped out because he didn't want to talk about it openly.
Fellow crypto bros and others who associate with this lifestyle continue to live in a bubble of individualism, where wealth accumulation is the only thing that matters. While there’s nothing wrong with pursuing material gain, I choose to step away from such a worldview and stay true to my values.
I refuse to be coaxed into accepting the status quo without challenging it and making sure everyone is held accountable for their actions.
There are many young artists who lack the social savvy and acumen to challenge and confront these societal norms. Unfortunately, they find success by staying silent and not speaking up against those who benefit from oppressive systems.
Most recently, during Black History Month, I was shocked to see Beeple retweet an AI post that had changed Black Panther to White Panther. While I am open to the possibilities of AI, I found it particularly concerning that this would be the one tweet he highlighted in a month dedicated to celebrating and remembering African Americans' accomplishments and contributions.
It was then that I realized the kind of culture that Beeple enabled and perpetuated - not just his humorous images poking fun at Elon Musk and Donald Trump, but also a culture of appeasing trolls.
Though there were moments when he created influential works in support of Black Lives Matter during its peak in 2020, these moments seemed to be overshadowed by the complacency with which he treated racism on a day-to-day basis.
Recently, there have been discussions about the lack of Black people at Beeple's opening. While I do not intend to call him or his supporters racist, I cannot help but consider the implications behind their actions.
Exposure is not an equitable exchange for the immense value I create with my work as a Black artist. There were no offers of compensation when I was invited to be a part of this event, only the request that I attend and enjoy myself.
Who does this type of invitation serve? How can their intentions be called anything other than dead-end peddling?
We must consider the privilege associated with events held by Beeple that may make it difficult for the average person, especially those of color, to attend. His team needs more attention to potential barriers to access, like the cost of flight and lodging, while also recognizing how attending such an event can benefit the people involved.
This type of exclusion damages people of color who are gaining valuable resources regarding networking or other opportunities that help them advance their career aspirations. Despite its shiny surface appeal, attending such an event would not have been worth it.
Beeple has an opportunity to address the exclusion of people of color at his events by implementing initiatives that focus on bringing more diversity into the space. One suggestion is for him to host a Black artist-focused show at his venue and assist those who cannot attend otherwise to attend.
Additionally, Beeple can apologize for any actions he has done in the past that have resulted in an insensitive attitude towards the black community and commit himself to support projects led by women of color which aim to make a positive impact within Web3.
These steps could be vital in building bridges between communities and taking serious strides toward equality.
While it may not be Beeple's responsibility to address the issues of inclusivity and diversity within Web3, he undoubtedly has the power to make a positive difference.
He can raise awareness on these topics through his influence, encourage accountability among individuals and organizations that may overlook such issues, and stand up for those who can't always do so for themselves.
Reframing how we view responsibility and understanding that everyone has the potential to affect change is just as crucial as having resources available to make sure everyone has the opportunities they deserve.
The conversation needs to go beyond asking why Web3 isn't different from Web2 but instead focus on how we can drive progress through better representation, inclusion, and equality.
3/14/2023 05:57:34 pm
Absolutely true! Inclusion and Diversity are a way of life, sound business and ethically sound behaviors.
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Life and Creativity with Elise Swopes
Discover the creative world of Elise Swopes! Follow along as she delves into her life and work, exploring her unique approach to photography and design. From her humble beginnings in Chicago to her current status as a social media influencer and content creator, she'll take an in-depth look at what makes her one of today's most exciting and inspiring artists.