An NFT art collection featuring portraits of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be part of this year’s Biennale Arte, the International Art Exhibition held in Venice. The collection, named This Cannot Be Erased, is the work of acclaimed Greek artist Miltos Manetas, a long-time friend of the jailed whistleblower.
The NFT mint, which gets underway June 23, is made up of 111 tokenized portraits of the activist that Manetas painted as part of the viral #AssangePower campaign. Funds raised during the sale will be allocated to the Pavilion DAO, a newly-created pillar of the event’s Internet Pavilion tech tent now in its seventh edition. Interestingly, Manetas was the one who first brought the Pavilion to the Venice Biennale in 2009.
Art Against Authoritarianism
According to Miltos Manetas, Julian Assange cuts an almost mythological figure in an age of creeping authoritarianism and digital surveillance. The activist, who has been charged under the US Espionage Act after publishing classified material exposing brutal abuses of power by the US and other governments, is currently appealing an extradition ruling by the UK Home Secretary.
Manetas views the campaign against Assange as an ideological witch-hunt that betrays the sickening hypocrisy at the heart of self-professed liberal democracies. This Cannot Be Erased aims to pit Art against Authoritarianism and censorship, and to strike a fatal blow against those who enjoy a monopoly over our data, information and lives.
By committing his work to the blockchain, the multimedia artist is exercising the right to ‘print’ material that will live in perpetuity – unlike the freedoms citizens of western democracies have long taken for granted.
In total, some 111 NFT artworks are to be released during three separate minting phases beginning on June 23. The animated portrait-tokens will be minted on Materia, a platform dedicated to contemporary art NFTs. According to its website, Materia welcomes all internet users who wish to adopt “the poetic idea of the internet as a new country,” one that offers “new rules of citizenship and new ideas of freedom.”
Manetas is no stranger to the activist cause: in 2009, the artist joined forces with curator Jan Aman and invited members of controversial activist collective The Pirate Bay to Venice, where they were to inaugurate the Embassy of Piracy, a plank of that year’s Internet Pavilion.
The NFTs that form the latest collection were drawn from the 222 Assange portraits Manetas produced over the last two years. The number was not an accident: there is one portrait for every day of the Biennale, which runs from 23 April to 27 November following pre-openings on 20, 21 and 22 April. Manetas has worked with long-term collaborator Howie B on the collection, with the latter laying a unique piece of music over every individual NFT.
This year’s Internet Pavilion is centred on the theme of “AIIA: Assange is Internet Internet is Assange.” Manetas is in the process of giving away every single oil-on-canvas painting of the dissident to raise awareness for his plight.
Assange, meanwhile, awaits his fate with lawyers frantically working on an appeal to the extradition ruling. The UK Home Secretary’s decision to kowtow to the US Justice Department has been roundly criticized for setting a dangerous precedent and jeopardising the future of public interest journalism.