As the first fine-art physical NFT gallery in South Africa, USURPA lives up to its namesake — ‘usurp’ means to take a position of power or importance by force — by staking its claim as the bold new name in African art.

On Thursday 4 May 2023, the USURPA Gallery in Riviera, Johannesburg, opened The New Medium group exhibition, a unique intersection of technology and fine art featuring twelve South African artists – Seth Pimentel, Baba Tjeko, Naledi Modupi, Sinalo Ngcaba, Mncedi Madolo, Nene Mahlangu, Mark Draws, vonMash, Oliver Pohorille, Terence Maluleke, Samurai Farai and Navel Seakamela.

NFTs (non-fungible tokens, or digital assets based on blockchain technology) may not be what you associate with fine art, and yet, at its core, an NFT is just a digital certificate of ownership of art — just as you could own a one-of-a-kind physical painting such as the ‘Mona Lisa’, therefore an NFT is the ownership of a piece of digital fine art. The provenance of each work can be captured on the blockchain, and secured through individual smart codes.

USURPA has taken the somewhat intimidating concept of digital art from the constraints of computer or phone screens into a physical space that connects both the artists and art lovers with the new medium, showcasing exactly what digital art can offer on the crisp Samsung Frame Technology. With these revolutionary screens, USURPA introduces digital art to the world of interior design and decor, offering art lovers the opportunity to add their digital art to the walls of their homes, offices and commercial spaces.

Adding a new dimension of desire to the concept of fine art, The New Medium features works by the twelve artists that have been adapted from either a physical or a static digital form into dynamic artworks that breathe life into each line, hue and expression. The exhibition is a masterclass in African optimism driving a narrative change in both the concept of art and how African art can be projected to the world.

Unlike GIFs or clips, the dynamic artworks aren’t just animated loops — rather, they subtly introduce meditative movements that enhance the original piece. As USURPA CEO Steve Tanchel explains, “Imagine you have a stunning image of a lake on your wall and, just once a year, a sea creature makes an appearance in the lake, there are now so many more layers of the artist’s narrative that can be explored.”

USURPA’s sole mission is to empower established and up-and-coming African artists through a decentralised platform that introduces digital art as a modern form of fine-art investment. Tanchel, together with USURPA co-founders Adam Trope and multidisciplinary artist Kay Kay Ribane, assembled a unique team comprising CFO Michael Salomon, artist and creative director Zelé Angelides and software engineer Devon Jacobson to steer this initiative to bring fine art to the digital space.

So set aside any trepidation you may have about the new wave of digital art with this exhibition, which will open your mind to the future.

The New Medium will be on show at USURPA from 4 May to 1 June 2023. The gallery is open to visitors from Tuesday to Friday between 10h00 and 17h00, and by appointment only on Saturdays.
Location: 70B Oxford Road, Riviera, Johannesburg

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