C3 is a sole voice against tyranny, powered by NFTs

June 20, 2022
Dystract V, by C3.

C3 describes himself as a political artist, his work is anti-regime, and his mission is to share what is happening in Iran, a country he describes “as the end of the world.” He speaks to Signal about his early mistakes in web3, his battles he had — alone on the internet — with depression, and his advice for new artists.

Would you put yourself in mortal danger to share a message with the world?

Iranian-born enigmatic artist C3 answers 'yes' to the question. Known as C, the anonymous artist is a man with a kind heart and a clear mission. He describes himself as political, his work is anti-regime, and his mission is to share what is happening in Iran, a country he describes “as the end of the world.”

Crypto, anti-regime art, and OpenSea are all banned in Iran, but thanks to NFTs, his work is found worldwide in the hands of loyal collectors. Twelve months ago, he had a regular job, and today he's a successful full-time NFT artist. His ability to "keep going” and his stubbornness to continue "showing up” brought him eventual success.  

However, his journey was arduous, full of darkness and suicidal thoughts.

C discovered NFTs through crypto artist XCopy. While watching the BBC, an XCopy 1/1 piece appeared on the screen, and he instantly recognised the talent behind the art and became curious about the technology behind it. “I didn't know that there was actual art on NFTs. I always thought it was PFP collections. But then I saw that painting and thought, wow, that's actually an impressive painting, I should check out NFTs.”

Dystract X, by C3.

Curiosity led him down the NFT path, which took him to quit his job three months ago. However, the choice to exclusively make art comes at a cost. In Iran, his freedom and security are at risk, and he goes to great lengths to mask his identity and retain anonymity. The consequences for producing his art are torture, prison, or death – a risk he is willing to take. Four months ago, he stopped shipping physical canvases because customs authorities asked too many questions. The stakes are real, yet he continues to make anti-regime street graffiti at night.

His mission outweighs the risks of being caught. Most of his paintings have a true story behind them, connected to events, experiences, and memories. These stories are the ones he depicts through his art. “In 2018, around 5,000 people were killed on the streets of Tehran. And no one in the world cared or knew about these things. Imagine if 5,000 people were killed in the UK, in a month, on the streets. The mayhem, chaos, and the hashtags and the way people would be praying for London.”

“Maybe if it wasn’t happening for me, I could help other artists to have motivation with some sales.”

— C3

C has poignant stories to share. The ones of mothers, fathers, and children being killed on the streets, protesting for freedom or food. Using NFTs, he shares these stories with his collectors, who in turn share them with people on Twitter and Discord across the globe. His art delivers a specific message to collectors, beyond aesthetics and above the noise of mainstream news, symbolising a cohesive body of work.

On Zoom, with the camera off, he describes himself as stubborn and hot-headed. When he speaks, you hear he's serious, but at the same time, he cheerfully laughs at his ignorance when starting out. “I had 0.2 eth in my life. I went to mint, but I didn't know about gas fees, and it was the height of the bull run when Eth was over $4,000; back then, gas fees were insane. I clicked, but something went wrong, it kept reducing my eth, and I was like, 'what is happening? Why is it going down?' I eventually figured it out.”

The Rebel., by C3.

Like other artists, he made mistakes, and often believed he would never sell any of his work. Personal matters caused him depression to the point where every day, from the moment he woke up until the moment he went to sleep, he contemplated suicide. A self-described introvert who counts very few people as genuine, real-life friends, he lacked a network to lean on, and so he turned to the people he knew online. DMs from the community asking, 'are you okay?', 'what can I do?' – these acts of kindness kept him going in the early days.

Struggling to find sales and fearing he wouldn't make it, he thought about other artists in the same position as him. “During those months, I didn't have any sales. I didn't have any money; maybe $800 was all I had back then. I thought maybe I could help other artists by giving them a sale. I saw a good piece from Smile Ghost and bought it. I ended up spending one-third of all the money that I had in my life collecting pieces from artists to give them a boost, because maybe if it wasn't happening for me, I could help other artists to have motivation with some sales.”

C embodies empathy. He knows a single act of kindness can have a ripple effect and move mountains in a world that sometimes feels emotionally empty. In Tezos in particular, he sees a fantastic community and “a great place to start a journey,” with artists who are “genuine kind human beings.”

As an artist, C3 claims that he is lucky. After five months with no sales, his first collector, mr703, bought two of his genesis Dystopian pieces. He doesn't know why or how mr703 found his work, but he is forever grateful to him and his collectors for believing in his idea. “I always try to take care of my collectors and do things for them. I did some airdrops, but I don't announce them. I always think I have to do something to repay the kindness from last year.”

Thrones of Blood., by C3, the first NFT he ever sold.

With a background as an art historian, he believes a single idea is critical to his body of work because it attracts a specific type of collector, an individual drawn to the same idea, not just randomness or aesthetics.  

“New people should know that making random art that is not connected is not the way. You have to know what you want to say and build around it. Many people go for only aesthetics or random things that they see. I'm sure they are beautiful, but when you buy Van Gogh, he had a style and something to say. Maybe he had 200 paintings, but it was the same idea across different paintings.

“I don’t want to think, ‘back in the day I could have done NFTs, and for some reason, I didn’t.’”

— C3

“It's part of a bigger message that a painter or an artist wants to say, and you get a piece of that idea by getting one painting from a collection. And it means more to people when they know that it's a body of artwork, not just a single piece. XCopy is not a single piece. You can spot XCopy from 2015 until now. Certain people are drawn to that. I think it's important for newer people to know that they should figure that out and keep pushing that.”

From his studies, he was inspired by many artists, especially propaganda posters from World War II. He describes his work as “minimalistic," where less is more. He conveys a clear concept, relying on black, white, red, and sometimes yellow. These colors are his tools, an instrument to visualise powerful ideas repeated over a series of works.

“You have to know what you want to say and build around it.”

— C3

It is easy to see that he is an artist with a clear mission, which he works to fulfil every day with a complete body of work stored on-chain. To C, blockchain represents a revolution for preserving history, a record of stories that cannot be erased. “Russia invading Ukraine was the end of the world one day, and no one is talking about it the next week. They are bombing Ukraine right now, but that story is being erased in front of our eyes. But you can preserve that story or timeline, and hope that people find it now or ten years from now, and that for me is amazing.”

After a tumultuous year filled with ups and downs, does he have any advice for new artists coming into this space?

“Be stubborn. It's impressive when people know someone is showing up for a year. Figure out what you want to say and stick with that and stand for that, fight for it, for whatever you want to say. Make friends, have sympathy, and care about people. Cheer for other people's success. It has good karma.”

C has hit his stride as a full-time NFT artist in the past three months. A plethora of talented people inspire him; some renowned, some lesser-known, but all embodying the kindness and community found on Tez, including @Abs0lutelywrong, @VSTRVL_FFF, @cemhah, and @SmileGhostNFT.

And he is someone who does not want to live with regret. “Ten, twenty years from now, I don't want to think 'back in the day I could have done NFTs, and for some reason, I didn't'.” By showing up daily and conveying a singular idea, he found his voice and a community of friends, artists, and loyal collectors. "Making friends and real connections is the most important part of the NFT journey. The art itself is important but finding people who think like you is way more important than the actual art.”

Dystract V, by C3.
Dystract V, by C3.
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After a career in financial consulting in London, Sig directed her attention to blockchain technology and spent some time as a Solidity developer. Her work focuses on web3 because she believes in the opportunity for curious individuals to unlock their creative potential. Away from her computer she is passionate about long-distance running.

Collaborators and honourable mentions: @c3naax