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Niharika Momtaz had carved a niche for herself as a designer of jewellery and fashion wear. But while working in the art scene in Dubai, where she is based, she suddenly got drawn by the buzz surrounding NFTs (non-fungible tokens).  As much as she loved crafting and creating physical pieces, she realised her designs had potential to work as NFTs. 

She embarked on a journey to familiarise herself with blockchain technology, digitisation of art, and so on. Last year, through a collaboration with Morrow Collective, a partner company, she finally created an NFT. She painstakingly took high quality photos of her physical artwork, from every side, for 3D modelling,  which converted it to a digital token that’s usable in a blockchain application.

Her first ever NFT creation was an animated representation of one of her jewellery designs. Her fellow artists and peers were very much taken by it. Inspired by the response, she did not waste time to launch an NFT platform, Meta Moina, for trading digital artworks by herself and fellow Bangladeshis.

The convergence of technology and art is a fairly common phenomenon in the developed world; Bangladesh’s artists, however, have been slow to respond to it until now. 

In the fashion industry, NFTs are now to represent exclusive access to limited edition digital products, such as a one-of-a-kind designer dress or a pair of shoes. NFTs are unique digital assets that represent ownership of a specific piece of content in the metaverse – such as an artwork, photography, animation, or even a tweet.

“Working in Dubai’s art space, I realised that people are spending more and more time online. And however small, there is a certain market for digital artworks,” she said. “I wanted to find a way to showcase my and fellow Bangladeshi artists’ work in that space.”

NFTs are digital assets that are stored on a blockchain, making them unique and uncopyable. They have gained popularity in the art world as a way for artists to sell their digital work as one-of-a-kind pieces.

Meta Moina currently represents six Bangladeshi artists and designers, including Fareha Zeba, Md Harun-ar-Rashid, Habiba Nowrose, Mahmuda Siddique, Afroza Hossain, and Niharika Momtaz. The platform is UAE-based, as the underlying technology of blockchain is yet to gain popularity in Bangladesh.

“Not only does this give collectors a chance to own a unique piece of fashion history, but it also creates a new way for me to connect with my audience,” she said. “I can share my creative process with them in a way that wasn’t possible before.”

But for Niharika, the platform is more than just a business venture. “It’s about bringing Bangladeshi art to the world,” she said. “NFTs give us a way to showcase our unique culture and craftsmanship on a global stage.”

Niharika hopes that her success will inspire other designers in Bangladesh and beyond to embrace new technologies and push the boundaries of their industries. “The world is changing fast,” she said. “We have to be willing to change with it.”

How does NFT artwork work?

Converting physical artworks into NFTs is a meticulous process that requires careful documentation. Meta Moina has assembled a team of technical experts who specialise in executing this process.

First, artists at Meta Moina create physical pieces of jewellery, artwork, or photographs. Once a piece is complete, they take high-quality photos of it from every angle, capturing all the intricate details that make it unique.

From there, they create a digital representation of the piece using 3D modelling software. This step ensures that every aspect of the physical piece is captured in a digital format, from the colour and texture of the materials to the way the light reflects off the piece.

Once the NFT is created, collectors can purchase it just like they would a physical piece of jewellery or clothing. And because the NFT is stored on the blockchain, they can be sure that they are getting a one-of-a-kind piece that cannot be replicated or copied.

For Niharika, this process is a way to preserve the legacy of her work and share it with a wider audience. “Creating NFTs of our showstopper pieces is like creating a digital museum of our works,” she said. “It’s a way to ensure that our designs and artworks will be remembered for years to come.”

Presently, Meta Moina provides a collection of six NFTs that are appraised within the price range of $100-200. While no sales have been made thus far, Niharika reports that there has been a noteworthy level of interest expressed by potential buyers.

As of 2023, the state of NFTs has significantly evolved from the hype-filled period of 2021 and 2022. The initial wave of enthusiasm surrounding non-fungible tokens led to a proliferation of new projects, especially in the realm of digital images. However, many of these projects faced challenges and collapse, resulting in a lack of buyers for the associated NFTs.

This indicated a clear bear market for the majority of NFT collections. Following the peak trading volume of nearly $2.8 billion in August 2021, NFT markets experienced a considerable decline in trading activity. The traded value per month has settled around $100 million to $200 million, reflecting a significant decrease from the previous highs. This suggests a cooling off of the market and a return to more moderate levels of activity.

It appears that the heyday of NFTs coincided with the prime hyped age of the metaverse. The metaverse, once hailed as a transformative technology enabling users to immerse themselves in a video-game-like world, has lost its momentum and relevance as well.

Why are artists venturing into NFTs?

Although NFTs have gained popularity in recent years, the marketplace for them is still relatively niche. In other countries where cryptocurrencies are allowed, there is a small but growing market for NFTs. 

Some art collectors and enthusiasts are drawn to the idea of owning a one-of-a-kind digital asset that represents a physical piece of art or fashion. Others are interested in the technology behind NFTs and the potential for them to revolutionise the way we think about ownership and authenticity.

For Niharika, as long as there are collectors who appreciate their unique vision, Meta Moina will continue to create and share their work in new and innovative ways.

According to her, Bangladesh is currently facing a setback in terms of embracing NFT technology, mainly due to the country’s prohibition on cryptocurrencies. 

Furthermore, the technology sector in Bangladesh is not particularly enthusiastic about NFTs, and the artists in the country are unaware of the form, despite the growing revolution in the art and tech world. As a result, there is a need to educate them about NFTs, so that they can compete with the world.

To that end, Meta Moina has launched a collaborative initiative with SBK Foundation, aimed at providing training to Bangladeshi artists on the creation of digital artworks, including the process of converting physical pieces into NFTs.