Imprisoned WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is the subject of a new NFT collection that features at this year’s Venice Biennale art exhibition. The collection, This Cannot Be Erased, is a collaboration between Greek artist Miltos Manetas and acclaimed British composer Howie B.
Assange, who is currently fighting extradition to the United States, is not involved in the venture though he is said to be aware of it: Manetas, whose work has long examined the digital landscape, is a long-time friend of the activist.
The collection will be released in three phases of 37 tokens each, with each NFT representing a unique oil-on-canvas painting of Assange produced by Manetas. The works display the face of Assange, fracturing before coming back together, never to disappear.
A celebrated conceptual artist, Miltos Manetas is no stranger to the Venice Biennale: he founded the exhibition’s Internet Pavilion in 2009 and the tech tent is the venue for his latest work.
The Pavilion, now in its seventh edition, is this year dedicated to Julian Assange. In May, Manetas and Lightbox Director Mara Sartore opened the doors to “AIIA – Assange is internet Internet is Assange,” an exhibition featuring 222 hand-painted portraits of the journalist produced by Manetas as part of the #AssangePower movement. The 2022 Venice Biennale, now in its 59th year, runs from 23 April to 27 November.
As an NFT collection, This Cannot Be Erased lives both inside and outside of the exhibition’s Internet Pavilion. After all, while the series is part of the AIIA event, the tokens themselves will live in their buyers’ web3 wallets. The 111 artworks that make up the collection will be minted on Materia, a multi-chain NFT platform created by art professionals and blockchain specialists.
Uniquely, holders of the limited-edition Assange NFTs will become Trustees of AIIA, with monies raised from the sale entering the Internet Pavilion DAO. In essence, this model will give members the opportunity to influence how the Pavilion dispenses funds to art projects in the future, with an emphasis on nurturing work related to internet freedom.
According to Manetas, his ambition is to ensure that people do not forget the plight of Assange, a distinct possibility given that many mainstream media outlets have discontinued their coverage of the case. NFTs are less easy to dismiss, since they live in perpetuity on the public blockchain. To Manetas, Assange is an internet icon, a man who exposed the contradictions of liberal democracies and, in so doing, fell foul of the power brokers who seek to silence dissent and crush their political opponents.
Manetas first began painting Assange while locked down in Colombia during Covid in 2020, and his intention was to create a new work for every day of Assange’s incarceration. Ultimately, 222 portraits were produced to reflect the 222 days of the Venice Biennale, with half of those given digital form through Materia.
The artist previously championed Assange’s cause with his “Assange’s Condition” show at Rome’s Palazzo delle Esposizioni in 2020, as well as “Assange Situation” at Belgium’s IKOB Museum a year later. Manetas also put the dissident in touch with crypto artist Pak, whose collection Censored raised $54 million for his legal fund earlier this year.