Entrepreneur Zain curating Exhibitions of NFTs digital collectibles

“A good NFT artwork, in my opinion, should be able to do something that traditional painting, sculpture, or new media cannot,” said Zain Naqvi.

Entrepreneur Zain curating Exhibitions of NFTs digital collectibles

Zain Naqvi, a 33-year-old Pakistani designer and entrepreneur, has been involved in the Pakistani startup ecosystem since 2014. Since his foray into the Web3 space, Naqvi has worked on Ape Harbour, the world’s first metaverse shipyard, and is currently involved in a project reimagining some of the apes of the Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC), including curating one of the country’s largest exhibitions of NFTs and digital collectibles, which is set to take place early next month.

Currently working as the co-founder and Head of Design at Alter, a local platform that connects creators and businesses from emerging economies with collectors (of digital collectibles and NFTs) all over the world, the company made headlines in 2021 after auctioning off one of Pakistan’s most well-known viral memes, the 2015 “Friendship Ends with Mudasir,” for 20 Ethereum tokens (a whopping $51,000).

Naqvi’s work has also appeared in a number of international publications, including the Imago Mundi Project at the Venice Biennale. During the conversation, Naqvi discussed Web3’s rapid evolution, why younger creatives should stop playing it safe and instead continue pushing the boundaries of innovation, and much more.

What inspired you to Web3?

ZN: Growing up in Pakistan in the 1990s, there was a very limited social scene, and the internet was a new and exciting world. I recall chatting with people on MSN and mIRC and attending LAN parties, where we would transport our PCs to a central location to play games together.

Many of the people I met on these forums back then are now professionals who are transforming entire creative industries in Pakistan.

I’ve been a part of the internet’s evolution from Web1, to the social media-driven Web2, and now to Web3, which I believe offers a more democratic and decentralised approach to the internet. I was extremely fortunate to have worked on a project called Ape Harbor early on in the digital collectibles space  which utilized the Bored Ape Yacht Club IP to create the world’s first Metaverse shipyard.

Working on this project was a fantastic experience that led to my acceptance into BAYC, the most prestigious project in the Web3 ecosystem. This gave me a lot of leeway in terms of my own creativity and standing in the space.

How has Web3 evolved since you made your foray into the space in 2020?

ZN: When I first started in the industry, there was less emphasis on design and curation and more of a “anything goes” attitude. However, the space has evolved its own aesthetic and changed the relationship between the digital and physical worlds.

The space has also become more international, with an increase in Web3 startups in Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. Back then, nobody was there, and even some of the most powerful founders I spoke with in 2020 and 2021 were not convinced of Web3’s potential, despite the fact that they were visionaries in their own right.

Another significant difference I noticed was the scarcity of people from my background. At the time, it appeared to be a largely homogeneous environment. However, as the space has grown and become more international, I’ve seen a wider range of backgrounds and perspectives represented. This is a positive development because it allows for a broader range of ideas and experiences to be shared and discussed. Despite this, Web3 could use more female leaders, creators, and developers.

As Head of Design at your company, what’s the selection process like when it comes to selecting artworks (or agreeing to work with creators) to put forward to interested collectors?

ZN: Just two words. Provenance and relevance. Is the work’s or creator’s message unique, or are they simply eager to ride the hype train? Provenance is important because people contact us on a daily basis to sell items that do not belong to them, and in a place like South Asia, trademarks and copyrights are murky territory. As a curator, I need to know that what I’m buying or selling comes from a reliable source.

Do you think the popularity of local memes (like the two sold through Alter) and NFTs by Pakistani artists are on the rise in crypto art markets? If yes, why do you think it’s gaining momentum? What are we doing on home turf that intrigues foreign buyers?

ZN: Despite having a very local origin, memes are internet natives and can have a global following. They are not, however, limited to a single location and can be shared and enjoyed globally.

Because memes are of the internet and have their own unique characteristics and value in the history of the medium itself, the dynamics of a meme sale differ from those of a contemporary art or crypto art sale. Many artists in the space are working on high fantasy, South Asian futurism, or other innovative concepts that, at first, may be difficult to fully grasp in light of preconceived notions about contemporary society in the country.

It is also important to consider Pakistani art from a cultural and historical standpoint, both in the contemporary art world and in the realm of digital collectibles and NFTs. Despite numerous influences, these artists are developing visual practises that are entirely their own. The mix of influences and formal concerns that these works represent is, I believe, what distinguishes them.

Many are still slowly coming around to understanding Web3: what should artists and designers know about the space that would encourage them to enter into the Web3 domain?

ZN: It is critical for creatives and artists entering the space to consider roles other than creating and selling digital collectibles and NFTs. These roles can include product collection, curation, strategy, and design. Rather than trying to do everything at once, it is important to be focused and clear about what one wants to bring to the table and work towards that goal. One complaint I have about my peers and younger creatives is that they frequently put themselves in a bind when it comes to the type of work they want to do.

When entering a new realm, it is critical to take a balanced approach that takes into account both the old and new systems. This may imply retaining certain elements of the old system while introducing new ideas and innovations.

How would you define a good NFT artwork? Are there any that you absolutely love?

ZN: A good NFT artwork, in my opinion, should be able to do something that traditional painting, sculpture, or new media cannot. This could entail utilising blockchain technology, data, machine learning, or artificial intelligence in novel ways. Beyond being an illustration or digital collectible, it should also have a clear direction or movement. It must push the boundaries as both a message and a medium.

I recently purchased a piece from an AI Artist known as Memory Mod. I’m also a huge fan of Claire Silver, who is widely regarded as a pioneer in the NFT space. Amrit Pal Singh’s work from across the border is something I’m proud to have in my collection. I’ve also been bidding and negotiating furiously in order to obtain a specific piece from the Turkish phenomenon, Refik Anadol.

Do you think music NFTs can be lucrative for musicians minus big record labels in the long-run?

ZN: As someone who is familiar with digital technology and trends, I believe that music NFTs could be the next big thing in the coming months. Decentralized music streaming and royalty services, such as Royal, Decent, and Opus, already have platforms and communities in place.

The relationship between physical and digital media is also important to consider, as the iPod’s success was largely attributed to the rise of MP3s. As this relationship is better understood in the Web3 space, the music and NFT industries may see even more growth and innovation. I believe labels will exist, but they will be of a different kind than Netflix is to Blockbuster. Same domain, but disruptive distribution.

What advice would you give to those hoping to sell their artworks as NFTs? Is there anything they should keep in mind before flocking to NFT auction sites?

ZN: It’s critical to understand the distinctions between genres and platforms. If your work is presented in the wrong context, it can be difficult for someone to understand it, so it’s critical to know which NFT sites are best suited to your style of art. Furthermore, I believe it is critical to focus on creating value rather than profit.

Money is the result of value, and if we focus too much on putting on a show of success rather than actually creating value, we can end up with problems like the current market situation and financial crisis.

Digital collectibles use blockchain technology to create NFTs that allow for distribution and transfers in ownership. In other words, digital collectibles cannot be copied like regular data on a computer, but one owner can easily transfer ownership to another person.