Sarkin Foto is using the blockchain to keep Nigerian culture safe, forever

Ola Kalejaye
May 9, 2023
“For those of us who are bullish about African culture, we can never stop” — Sarkin Foto

The ancient practices of postcolonial nations are too often forgotten. But Taofeek Ibrahim Adeshina, known to the web3 community as Sarkin Foto, is on a mission to immortalise his Nigerian heritage on the blockchain. He speaks to Ola Kalejaye about how he is telling his nation’s stories authentically, and why web3 is the place to do it.

The cultures and traditions of postcolonial nations across the world are too often obscured from the public discourse. The tragic history of Western “civilisation’s” global footprint frequently entails a historical disconnect for the inhabitants of countries whose cultural assimilation has come at the cost of ancient practices. Even in today’s information age, with so much knowledge at our fingertips, many of these niche cultural celebrations are unknown to the people in these countries, let alone the wider world.

Enter the work of Nigerian documentary photographer Taofeek Ibrahim Adeshina, known to the web3 community as Sarkin Foto. Through his captivating images, Sarkin has dedicated himself to capturing the vibrant stories of his home country, and its many tribes and peoples. Now, thanks to the blockchain and NFTs, Sarkin is setting about preserving these lesser-seen practices for generations to come.

Sarkin’s obsession with photography started in his first year of secondary school when he found himself experimenting with macro photography, taking close-up photos of small subjects, like bugs, on his smartphone.

Aja Ooni are guards imbued with supernatural powers to protect the King of Ile-Ife, the cradle of creation in Yoruba mythology.

Looking to expand his skills, he enrolled on a Nikon School of Photography course, where he explored different genres while immersing himself in the basics of the craft. Investing in his very first camera after concluding his studies at the Nikon School, Sarkin first began to hone his skills in sports photography, shooting his school’s teams at major tournaments and games.

But it was documentary photography that ultimately captured his imagination. Sarkin recalls learning about some of Nigeria’s oldest cultural festivals from pictures in school textbooks. These incredible celebrations, many of which have endured for centuries, have been minimised largely as a result of Nigeria’s colonial history and modern development. “You hardly get to see most of these cultures on the internet,” Sarkin says, noting how unknown many of these festivals are.

“If I do not tell these cultural stories, somebody who is not from here would.”

— Sarkin Foto

Through documentary photography, Sarkin found a way to explore and share his Hausa culture, along with the traditions of his immediate community in Southwest Nigeria, and the rich diversity of cultures around the country. There is a sense of purpose in Sarkin’s work that comes from the need to preserve these cultures, especially as they face the threat of extinction.

“If I do not tell these cultural stories from my immediate community, somebody who is not from here would tell these stories, and might not be accurate,” he observes. But, by minting his photographs as NFTs on the blockchain, Sarkin can ensure that an authentic representation of his culture remains. 

In The African Telepathy, a horse rider attends an important cultural celebration, a custom since the 1960s.

Sarkin’s NFT journey started when a friend sent him a link to a Discord server where he could connect with other Nigerian creatives. It wasn’t a great introduction to the web3 ecosystem. As most NFT enthusiasts know, Discord is a ‘necessary evil’, with notification spam and actual spam more common than messages you actually want to read. He quickly deleted the app.

Fast forward four months, however, and after taking the time to study how NFTs work, Sarkin’s tune had changed. “It really opened my eyes towards the opportunities that come from joining web3,” Sarkin says of the moment that NFTs finally clicked for him.

Exploring the different NFT marketplaces at the time, Sarkin decided that Foundation would be a good home to mint his first artwork as he liked how the platform “brings the uniqueness out in works.” An apt attribute for the place where such rare and unique photographs would be stored. 

It would be two more months before Sarkin snagged a Foundation invite, courtesy of a share-your-art Twitter thread from one of the NFT space’s most prolific collectors, DeeZe. NFTs have powered his photography career ever since, and Sarkin hasn’t looked back.

Now established in the web3 art scene, the young photographer has turned his attention to bringing more creatives from his home country into the NFT space: an effort that has been aided by various features in Nigerian national media. This year, Sarkin wants to translate that success into a tour of Nigerian universities, as well as visiting other African countries.

“For those of us who are bullish about African culture, we can never stop.”

— Sarkin Foto

“Having this kind of journey and support, I want to onboard a lot of creatives from Nigeria,” he says, noting just how many artists in the country can stand to benefit from the opportunities that come from web3.

Sales are, of course, a major part of that, as they enable artists to reinvest in themselves, buying better equipment to further enhance their artistry. But the opportunity to connect with other Nigerian creatives has been just as impactful, if not more so, for Sarkin.

“I want to onboard a lot of creatives from Nigeria.”

— Sarkin Foto

Before NFTs, art festivals and events were just about the only way that he was able to connect with other creatives, making connections difficult to come by. He sees NFTs as a means of providing a new and more effective way for artists to meet.

Entering the NFT space in early 2022, Sarkin didn’t have too long to situate himself before the bear market set in. While he held on, he saw many non-creatives, who had only engaged with NFTs in the hope of making some quick money, leave just as quickly as they came in.

Fortunately, the difficulties of the market haven’t shaken Sarkin from his belief in web3 as a tool to empower up-and-coming African creatives. “Those who are still present are not just here for the sales,” Sarkin remarks, emphasising the resilience of the other artists in his community. “For those of us who are bullish about African culture, and traditional stories, we can never stop.”

In Lofe II, Hunter smokes “Lofe”, a pipe intended to protect hunters from the dangers of the forest.
In Lofe II, Hunter smokes “Lofe”, a pipe intended to protect hunters from the dangers of the forest.
Click to view our article about art.
Written by
Ola Kalejaye
Click to view our article about art, music, film, and storytelling..
More about
Click to view our article about art.
More about

Ola is a US–based writer and digital nomad. He loves thinking, learning, and writing about all things web3, particularly its impact on major creative industries like film and art.