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Businessman burns a Frida Kahlo drawing to sell NFTs

In recent months, the NFT market has slowed down significantly, sales have plummeted since peaks, and many artists are grasping for ways to get their projects some attention. 

Some may say that crypto businessperson Martin Mobarak perhaps took this need too far. In July, at a party for Mobarak’s Frida.NFT project, the art collector burned a $10 million drawing by Kahlo to a cheering crowd, according to the Miami Herald, promising to use the profits from NFT sales for charity.

According to The New York Times, the project has so far only sold four of the 10,000 NFTs it created — a roughly $11,000 return on a $10 million stunt. On top of that, the controversial promotion tactic may have broken Mexican law.

Mexico’s National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature considers Kahlo’s work national monuments, rightly so, and destroying them is a crime. In September, the institute announced it was investigating whether Mobarak’s drawing was even an original Kahlo piece. It’s unclear if authorities have shared their findings on the authenticity of the piece.

The website for Mobarak’s project describes it as an effort to bring together collectors, creators, and art lovers and introduce Kahlo’s work to the metaverse. On OpenSea, the NFT project is described as “the only remaining link to Frida Kahlo’s diary painting, Fantasmones Siniestros, in existence.” With next to no interest in the NFTs and the original drawing (maybe) in ashes, the world’s connection to Fantasmones Siniestros seems more tenuous than ever.

“I’m proud to say this event will solve some of the world’s biggest problems in honour of Frida Kahlo,” reads a title slide in a video produced by the NFT company.

What this statement means exactly is unclear. The event itself doesn’t seem to align with Kahlo’s artistic and communist beliefs. According to The New York Times, the event saw a mariachi band, a flame-juggling dancer and models in bathing suits and ball gowns sauntering beside the pool of a Miami mansion.

Then the spectacle began.

Mobarak is a businessman who built his wealth on waves of speculation, riding the dot-com surge in the 1990s, and then the rapid growth of Bitcoin in recent years. The event saw him pop a drawing out of its frame that he heralded as a page from Frida Kahlo’s personal diary. 

Attendees at the opulent July gathering, which was captured in a promotional video, had been notified that the drawing was being “transformed to live eternally in the digital realm” through the creation of nonfungible tokens that represented the “rebirth & immortality of a timeless piece.” Those who chose to buy an NFT with the Ethereum cryptocurrency were promised exclusive access to events and the assurance that 30 percent of the proceeds would go toward charitable causes.

The motive seems to have struck a more painful than insightful chord and true Kahlo fans would argue that his behaviour doesn’t align with the morals expressed in her iconic art. 

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