Adesola ("Ade") Yusuf is a 24 year old artist from Nigeria going by the artist name "Arclight". Ade works on both physical and digital paintings. He has exhibited his works widely and his pieces have been collected locally and internationally. Ade is now entering the NFT space. He's a grantee of the inaugural Sevens Grant and he has been selling his first three NFT pieces on KnownOrigin.

What makes Ade’s work interesting as an NFT? We think it’s what his work has in common with the ethos of NFTs and the crypto culture more broadly. And that is the ethos of censorship-resistance, and of levelling the playing field for anyone, anywhere.

We think Ade’s work elegantly visualizes the struggles of the Nigerian youth in the face of state violence and censorship. His work manifests a strong political undertone and comments on the modern condition of young Nigerians trying to thrive in an economy that is structured to destroy innovation.

Adesola's NFT triptych titled "Nothing Really Works Here"

Emzor’s Blue

The first piece of the triptych, on the left, is titled “Emzor’s Blue”. It depicts a man in a situation of discomfort and conflict. With the right hand holding his head, the young man symbolizes a broader class of Nigerian youths struggling to understand and make sense of what they experience in their country. Perhaps the solution is medication from Emzor, one of Nigeria's most well-known pharmaceuticals companies. But Emzor may not be enough to cover deep-seated wounds, represented by red arrows depicting a more painful and intense discomfort.

The emoji stickers depict a situational irony. The smiling emojis stuck on the head evoke the popular Nigerian saying of "suffering & smiling". Slapping a smile on our faces isn't enough; beneath the surface, beneath our skin, we are hurting. The blatant, bright green hair evokes the notion of a wild Nigerian youth full of energy, life and freshness, as well as notions of natural and monetary growth. The positivity, however, contrasts sharply with several red arrows stuck in the subject's body. The youths may fight for a more prosperous life, but they must confront frequent assault and threats to their lives. Fighting for a better life is not easy. The flower in the hand represents a sense of responsibility and growth, yet the arrows in the shoulder make it difficult to nurture it. The foundation for growth and work is weak and broken, further symbolized by the cracks in the green table.

Don’t Touch My Bag

The second piece of the triptych, in the middle, is titled “Don’t Touch My Bag’’. Several books on the table give a sense of the meaning of this piece. At the bottom of the book stack is a book about the Nigerian Constitution, less helpful for the goals of the young artist than the book on top about NFTs. Ade shares that he is depicting an average youth who wants to go beyond the country, abroad. The door, in the back, signifies a new place, a gateway to a world of growth, underlined by the flashy, bright green handle on the door. The stern look on the subject's face suggests he is serious about this: don't take away his chance for economic growth.

The fashionable and luxurious bag is adorned with a Hermes unicorn, a symbol of entrepreneurial wealth. The unicorn imagery also evokes Ethereum, a notion further underscored by a pseudo Ethereum wallet address on the subject's chest. The imagery on the bag, and the type of bag evoke the pursuit of wealth and opportunity. The bag itself also highlights the notion of travel: is it time to leave the country behind? Emoji stickers are stuck all over the youth's body. Unlike in the first piece, the stickers are not merely on the subject's head but also on the subject's upper body. This novel configuration suggests that the plight of young citizen is not just cerebral but also intensely emotional. While the door in the back suggests a path out to another world, the subject has his back turned to it. The focus of the subject is not so much on leaving Nigeria as it is on preserving wealth and opportunities for economic growth: "don't touch my bag".

Within the Nigerian context, preserving income and economic growth is hindered by institutional policies that affect existing and entrepreneurial businesses that are run by young entrepreneurs and creators. Ade recounts how, for example, institutional policies had censored cryptocurrency while other countries were adopting it, impeding the rapid adoption and growth of FinTech solutions. The result is captured by the arrow in the deflated ball: the country is eroding its talent pool and deflating growth. As a result, the local educational system, represented by books on the 1999 Constitution, is cast aside to make space for opportunities elsewhere, specifically in NFT land.

Please Don’t Touch My Bag

The third piece of the triptych, on the right, is titled “Please Don’t Touch My Bag’’. The newspaper shows a headline stating "How FBI Warned FG, CBN on Scammers Using Cryptocurrencies to Defraud the West." Ade is referencing a specific episode in recent history that displays the power the state has to censor and distort information. The headline references one of the excuses used by the government to censor cryptocurrency trade, only to later retract the ban via an official who said that institutional policies stopped specifically banks rather than individuals from engaging with cryptocurrencies.

Ade shares that the meaning of the situation is about manipulation, censorship, and abuses rooted in the power of the state. The state has the power to handicap and incapacitate businesses, and it does what is in its own best interest rather than in the best interest of the people. This feeling is not an isolated feeling of one or a few person, but it is a shared feeling between many people in general, represented by the appearance of a second individual in this piece. Positioned closely to each other, the subjects seem to be connected via companionship and friendship, and appears to be from the same age group. While one reads the newspapers, the other expresses his grief, his head sinking into his hands, about institutional policies preventing a younger class of people from changing their lives, including via cryptocurrencies.

An interesting thematic is reflected in Ade's play with titles. The title of the third piece mirrors the title of the middle piece of the triptych, but adds the word "please". By adding the word "please", the sentence becomes much softer, almost pleading. This contrasts the more imperative, commanding sense evoked by the title of the middle image, "don't touch my bag". The titles themselves reflect the seeming tension and contrast mirrored by the juxtaposition of various elements, like the headache and the smiley stickers, the arrows and the flower, the bright green hair and the green table with cracks. These contrasts are the dominant theme reflecting the turbulent situation, feelings, and thoughts of young people in his community. Ade reflects it beautifully in his use of colours, visuals, and texts across the entirety of the triptych.

Concluding thoughts

Ade's work reflects, to us, a core theme that makes his work well suited as an NFT as opposed to a traditional, non-NFT artwork hanging in an offline gallery. And that theme is censorship-resistance. Censorship-resistance, here, is about abuses of the state as experienced by an entire social class of ambitious, young, and entrepreneurial Nigerians. NUMOMO is proud to support African Art via Ade's important work partly because it resonates powerfully with the very raison d'être of crypto and NFTs more generally.