“Culture isn’t something we can forgo” — how Four broke through to represent Nigerian culture in NFTs

July 21, 2022

Four discovered NFTs via OpenSea, but saw nothing from Nigeria, his home country. His mission is to change that, change the perception of digital art, and showcase Nigerian art and culture to others around the world. He sat down with Signal to talk about his journey and how he broke through in the busy NFT space.

Nine months ago, digital artist ‘Four’ knew nothing about NFTs. Yet, only halfway through 2022, he’s been featured on OpenSea’s Instagram, Twitter has purchased his work, and he’s earnt a spot on the invite-only art platform, SuperRare. 

Aged 21, Four is already an accomplished artist, leveraging strategy, diligence, and relationships as levers to develop his brand. On a macro-level, he believes humans share emotional experiences, but on a micro-level, his art communicates a different perspective; diversity, originality, and Nigerian culture. 

The Nigerian-born artist discovered NFTs scrolling through OpenSea, analysing collections and artists. Collectibles were popular, but there was nothing from his home country that caught his attention. “I was intrigued not to find something from Nigerians. I thought about how I could be distinct in this space. As a Nigerian, we like to represent our culture. I wanted to showcase that.”

Four uses his artistic skills to advocate for representation — intentionally, he’s taken on the responsibility to showcase Nigerian culture, stories, and traditions inherited from his ancestors. “Culture isn’t something we can forgo. It is something that is given to us by our parents and teaches us morals. The God of Now collection is trying to teach people about what we believed in the past. It is an interesting topic for people to know Nigeria is diverse.”

ÓÓSHÁ ÍYÀRA, by Four, part of The God Of Now collection.

His strategy to be distinct and intentional paid off as platforms like SuperRare acknowledged his work. Though he points to these achievements as a “privilege,” his success is the result of hard work and a genuine love for his craft. Digital art is a solution for Four, an outlet that puts him at ease and allows him to articulate his emotions. 

Despite being a recognised artist in the space, Four perceives continued struggles on the horizon. “Unlike painting or photography, the world does not recognise digital art as legitimate art. We have to work really hard to be seen and do something distinct. I do believe it is impossible for humans to remain in one state, so eventually, digital art will be recognised.”

Digitial artists like OSF, Taya Ferdinand, and Foleee are legitimising digital art and paving the way for upcoming artists to follow. Four is a big admirer of Misan Harriman and Adewale Mayowa, and confidently believes that one day he can reach their level of success if he continues to put in the work. 

As the space grows, prominent artists appear who can soak attention away from smaller creators who struggle to be heard. Though bigger artists have capital, resources, and visibility, they may not use their influence to spotlight lesser-known creators. “The majority of artists like me are struggling to be seen. If I had more resources I would buy from the artists I know. I see how hard they are working and their level of dedication. This would be my starting point.”

“Unlike painting or photography, the world does not recognise digital art as legitimate art.”

— Four

Relative to collectibles, the artistic community is small. But this makes meeting people easier, and many artists, like C3, have found that  making friends is key to their long-term success. The key is to be involved in the conversation, and eventually, people engage and follow back. 

“Normally, I like to study a potential collector. I like to try and communicate with them through their posts, so when they eventually follow me, I DM, thank them for following, and ask if it's okay to get to know them. If you are genuine, it’s very easy. As a new artist coming in, you must be patient and consistent. You have to know what to say and be present at the right time.”

Olóòkun Orisha was the first NFT that Four sold. It's part of his The God Of Now collection.

Four is a testament to this method. Over the months, he strategised how to meet potential collectors. After one month in the space, he sold his first piece, Olóòkun Orisha, to collector ShillWater. The Nigerian-inspired series visualises original stories from the gods, with cartoonish vibes, colourful art, and artefact details that draw attention to the collection’s origin. Four wants to prompt people to see things from another perspective rather than iterating on previous depictions.

“Culture isn’t something we can forgo.”

— Four

To this day, selling any of his pieces brings him intense joy and drives him to evolve and challenge himself. “I have to keep breaking barriers, pushing for the best. As an artist, I have grown in art, communication, giving advice, and helping new people. I have to be the solution because, like I said, to me, art is a solution. People should be able to share their problems, and I have an answer.”

Four’s enthusiasm and optimism remind me of Gandhi's words: “be the change you want to see in the world.” When he reaches the peak of one mountain, he looks to the next, aiming higher than before. After being featured on OpenSea’s Instagram, his next challenge was exhibiting on invite-only platforms, Foundation and SuperRare. 

Aura, by Four, from his WhatWeAre collection.

Previously, Foundation invitations were hard to come by, “you had to really grind.” Four uses the platform to tell personal stories from his life. Even his bio, 'We are The Four', originates from the three school friends who pushed him to do NFTs. ‘The Four’ is a tribute to the friends who helped him on the journey. It is not a fleeting mention, but one branded across his entire online identity, telling the world that success does not exclusively come from talent but from the people who help you along the way. “I think if it was not for them pushing me, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation.”

The Foundation collection looks like a collection of stills from an animated comic or film. As we talk more about the individual pieces, he shares that 4 Years Past represents when his mother passed. As a young boy only three years old, “I didn’t really get to meet her in person, only seeing pictures. I watched my dad be a strong support system for all of us. I wanted to give the story a whole new vibe and show the world that through this particular piece, my dad is a hero.” 

Four’s work speaks volumes, and his passion floods across our video. As an artist, he never limits himself to a particular medium and often includes prose to accompany his pieces. Influenced heavily by musicians, he pays attention to every song he listens to for the life expressions that manifest through the lyrics. Using the same method, he views accompanying writing with digital art as “a marriage of talent from God.”

After Foundation, the next challenge was SuperRare. The invite-only platform curates talented artists and is notoriously difficult to join. Four shares a story about an artist who applied for six months, twice a month, and eventually gave up. 

Betrayal, by Four, on SuperRare.

His collections on SuperRare are in stark contrast to his other works. Here, he plays with photography and creates a sense of signature using a scarf, an object he considers mysterious. Scarves are a common accessory in Nigeria, shared within families but worn by different women in their own style. “I want to use the scarf to tell different stories, ones to do with relationships, politics, and have a collection that stands the test of time.”

An artist should not be bound to the confinements of one medium, but at the same time, they need to consider that extreme changes in their style could leave collectors feeling uncomfortable and undermine their ability to form a clear identity. To this point, he believes he can navigate this challenge by having solid relationships with his collector base and communicating his consistent approach across styles and mediums.

“If in the next two or three years, my art is at the White House, my collectors will feel blessed to have collected any piece of my work. I've studied artists I look up to, and, to a reasonable degree, I see that when they get to a certain point, it doesn't matter what they've done in the past. Everything goes up in value. So to me, exploring and creating a legacy is a win for everyone.” 

So after nine months and a string of accomplishments, what is his advice to new artists entering the space? Be patient, be consistent, love what you do, listen to the right people, and help others without the expectation of receiving support in return.

There is no singular answer as to how to become a recognised digital artist. Each individual has their own learnings and experiences. Uniquely, Four has recognised that along with his digital skills, the catalyst for his success is “people”. He understands the proverb, “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

Today, Four is on a path to achieve far greater things. He knows blockchain technology is life-changing, and he is part of a community of artists exploring its potential on the frontline. The distribution opportunity is enormous, and now it's about meeting the opportunity with hard work. “Today, we have more visibility, more transparency, more freedom, and advancement. I think it's a blessing and a privilege, and I’m absolutely honoured to be here during this innovation.”

“I wanted to give the story a whole new vibe and show the world that through this particular piece, my dad is a hero.” 

— Four

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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 contributors: @WeAre_TheFour