Iris Nevins and Omar Desire of Umba Daima

How the Crossroads Exhibit Is Empowering Communities and Celebrating Black Art

BY Langston Thomas

October 07, 2021

The Crossroads Exhibit, a month-long NFT exhibit featuring Black and African artists, kicked off on Sept. 25. Spearheaded by creative agency Umba Daima, the virtual exhibit launched with the goal of educating diverse communities about blockchain and crypto technologies while also celebrating Black art and empowering established and rising artists within the NFT marketplace.

On display virtually via Umba Daima’s Unseen Gallery, the 30-day exhibit — which runs through Oct. 24 — features the works of 28 Black and African artists of varying disciplines. The art on display is also being sold via a schedule of consecutive auctions throughout the month through the gallery.

Throughout 2021, the NFT space has experienced intense growth and development. While mainstream publicity and institutional money continue to help shape how the NFT community operates, a golden opportunity to foster diversity and inclusion has emerged alongside the uplifting of independent creative voices. Umba Daima co-founders Iris Nevins and Omar Desire have found themselves directly engaging this opportunity, ready to help expand the movement toward creative freedom through NFTs. 

“It’s not to say that people don’t value diversity and want to have an impact. And I think we’ve actually seen a lot of efforts to do that and to challenge structural inequality, structural racism, structural gender discrimination,” Nevins tells nft now. “But it’s just so hard to do that after the fact. With NFTs, it’s so new that we are really on the ground floor and can build these structures the right way from the beginning.”

Through curating projects with brands and artists, Umba Daima — who is also the team behind the growing social community Black NFT Art — operates with the vision of creating equity through art. And having kept a finger on the pulse of the NFT ecosystem in 2021 through discourse and community engagement, Nevins and Desire have actualized the latest iteration of their vision through onboarding new and promising Black artists into NFTs.

“I don’t know how many times I hear from bigger collectors, ‘Well, I just don’t know where to find Black artists,’ you know?” Desire tells nft now. “Part of what we’re trying to do is create a safe space … and to be a beacon of light, so that [bigger collectors] can say, ‘Oh, there they are.’” 

As the non-fungible movement sits at the intersection of art, tech and finance, it seems a wide variety of individuals from various walks of life have found comfort within the NFT microcosm. Considering the space is still in its infancy, establishing a collective culture and inclusive ethos will likely be up to those at the center of the community.

“A lot of artists and collectors and just general NFT fans are focusing on disrupting the current balance and breaking down systems that have already been set in place,” 3D animator Andre O’Shea, who is not featured in Crossroads but attended the private launch party in Atlanta, tells nft now. “I think that just because of the nature of the culture here, and the nature of the people who are interested in this, we will be breaking down those barriers.”

Speaking about the impressive roster of artists on display in the Crossroads Exhibit, featured artist and musician Black Dave tells nft now, “Being able to talk to people who identify with the same culture as me really makes a difference when it comes to meeting people.”

Dave’s piece for the exhibit, a collaboration with motion designer Lloyd Wright titled “A Silent Conversation,” is based on “the idea of conversations with the world around us, specifically in conflict.”

Above: Dave and Wright’s collaborative video “A Silent Conversation”

In the context of the Crossroads Exhibit, Dave and Wright’s piece seems a bit meta. “A Silent Conversation” feels like a reflection of the exhibit itself, in that each artist is speaking silently through their art, contributing unique perspectives toward the collective discussion of inclusion and helping create equity through their pieces.

While the Crossroads Exhibit itself makes a statement on the visibility of Black NFT art, the discussion of inclusion and celebration has continued within the NFT community.

O’Shea, a prominent Black NFT artist, spoke to the future of the NFT space, telling nft now, “I think that the way that we can create a more equitable and inclusive space in the NFT world is mainly through dialogue, mainly through understanding what our values as a culture are, communicating that with new people and trying to set the example, trying to lead with that example.”

As Desire mentioned, Umba Daima has been working to fill a void within the NFT community by creating a platform for Black artists to be highlighted and celebrated. Beyond the Crossroads Exhibit, they also hope to help solve the issue of the lack of Black and African representation within the space.

“The metaverse is just a whole new world where we can build new institutions and new frameworks with those values intact, so that those issues never really come up,” says Desire. “Now is the time to do it.”

To learn more and stay updated on the Crossroads Exhibition, visit the Unseen Gallery website.

Photos courtesy of the Unseen Gallery.

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