The latest addition to Kofi Obuobi’s “3D African Masks” series, a project aiming to reclaim African history via NFTs, dropped on June 30th. The series represents masks that have been stolen from Africa at least since colonial times. Many of these masks today lie in private collections, accessible only to those who pay millions to own them. Obuobi is fighting against this privatization of his heritage by recreating these masks as NFTs, making them and their stories accessible again. Fifty percent of the proceeds collected from the NFT’s sales go toward funding Bezalel Oholiab, an incubator for artists, who can live for free and follow their dreams.
The Initiator: Kofi Obuobi
Kofi Obuobi is an artist and activist with a background in product design, a field he sees as a blend of arts and engineering. Obuobi is from Ghana, a country with a stable government that, nonetheless, imposes many limits on opportunities. He has worked on many projects including the BBC Africa Awards held in Kenya on the 26th of May, 2007, and has also taught arts at the Queensland International School in Ghana (2011 – 2017).
Obuobi’s inclination to act came after learning from his mentor, Dr.Malcolm Donald McLeod, about the grand scale of the masks that were taken from Africa. Many remain locked away for only private eyes to behold, thereby distancing descendants of the artists who made them from their roots. Obuobi does not believe this is the proper way to do things.
Obuobi stumbled upon NFTs relatively recently, after a chance commission for a sneaker design came his way from Casmir Patterson, at SneakrCred Inc. After immersing himself in the required technology, he realized NFTs could provide the perfect package through which to democratize information while limiting ownership. Obuobi connected this with his ambition to re-appropriate the masks stolen from Africa throughout history.
The match was lit and he began to create stunning representations of many masks, attaching their respective stories to them. A total of 29 masks to date have been made into NFTs, and can be found on Obuobi’s Opensea profile (under the account name, JAYREHMIGADE) .
Two new mask NFTS were minted on June 30th as additions to the ongoing “3D African Masks” series. They are representations of masks worn by the Bobo tribe of Burkina Faso, and by the Kru–Grebo tribes of Liberia, countries where these tribes have hundreds of years of history.
This NFT drop aims to shed light on the stories of these tribes, showcasing the masks that were an essential part of ancient African cultures. The project is successfully re-appropriating the stolen masks that were critical to daily life in these tribes. The impact these masks had is communicated in the story contained within each NFT and is made visible to all, while still allowing ownership by an individual.
According to Obuobi, “The BoBo mask was used to ward off bad fortune amongst the people. On days when unused, they were hung in front of homes […] that owned that mask.” The Bobo placed great emphasis on the masks they wore, believing they were essential in maintaining the balance of the universe.
Regarding the Kru-Grebo mask, Obuobi says “The Kru-Grebo Mask on the other hand [was] made by […] privileged craftsmen. The masks were made for Seers of the community. These Seers mediated between the people and God.” In this case, the religious importance is clear, as these masks served as conduits for worship.
Whereas the physical versions of these masks are held in private collections, owned by one person and viewable only to whomever that individual chooses, Obuobi aims to make the masks visible for all to learn from and appreciate while still allowing a lucky collector the chance to own them.
Beyond taking back what culturally belongs to him and his community, and by making the information and heritage available for all to experience, Obuobi wants to further maximize his impact. He has two partners, Daniel Ampofo Twum and Joseph Afari, who are equally convinced of the importance of helping people. Obuobi has experience in education and product and graphic design, while his partners have backgrounds in music production.
The partners have been building Bezalel Oholiab together, having paid start-up fees from their own pockets. Obuobi donates 50% of the proceeds from his NFT sales to the organization for ongoing financing. He envisions Bezalel Oholiab as “a result-oriented talent nurturing and innovative institute,” that will become a “kind of African X-Men with great talent to serve their brothers and sisters on the continent.”
Bezalel Oholiab already serves as an incubator for three artists, providing them with free shelter and allowing them to pursue their dreams while providing the tools they need to enhance their craft.
Beyond shelter, Bezalel Oholiab intends to implement a podcast entitled “THINK BIG AFRICA TV” that will “get, grow and retain creatives,” while also supplying content to be monetized on Youtube, Facebook, and other social media platforms. The proceeds collected will also go toward expanding Bezalel Oholiab.
Further services provided by the company include Music Business Training, 3D Visualization, Branding, and Design, all of which are taught to the incubatees for free. The financing comes from Obuobi and his partners’ pockets, the monetization of Bezalel Oholiab content, and from the “3D African Masks” NFT sales.
The program is free for the incubatees who live there while learning from experts in art and music. There is hope that they’ll become passionate about the “3D African Masks” project and be inspired to help. Otherwise, they would make incredible art to share with the world that would in turn lend to the promotion of “THINK BIG AFRICA TV” and Bezalel Oholiab. All art created by incubatees will be owned completely by them.
Featured Image Credit: Kifwebe Mask by Kofi Obuobi
Reach out to Kofi Obuobi or check out his art below!
Kofi’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kofiobuobi/
Kofi’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/OBJClothing
Kofi’s Opensea: https://opensea.io/accounts/JAYREHMIGADE