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Yatreda: An artistic collective using NFTs to celebrate Ethiopian legacies

Yatreda is a family of artists that brings the history of Ethiopian kingdoms to life through stunning imagery. With storytelling at the base of their work, they use NFTs to preserve their history and culture for future generations.

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Lets’ be honest while many of us are still struggling to fully understand cryptocurrency, crypto art, and Blockchain, other people are making fortunes and legacy art with it. And I can’t claim to know more than the bare minimum, which might just be enough to shed light on a few things.

Crypto art is digital art that is treated the same as physical art in that you can verify its authenticity and it typically comes with a license that allows the buyer to display the art digitally e.g. social media pages, digital marketplaces, game worlds, and virtual museums.

It can be sold through “non-fungible tokens,” or NFTs. Before I lose you there’s a ‘simple’ explanation for “non-fungible tokens,” or NFTs- they are unique units of data (or tokens) stored on Blockchain, which is a digital ledger. Kind of like money in a digital banking app or e-wallet. And just like how you can transfer that money digitally, NFTs can be sold, traded, and verified. The major thing to note is that NFTs can be associated with a particular digital or physical asset such as photos, videos, and audio. Which makes it so obscure- NFTs can be attached to anything from digital art to games, music, and even film.

The Yatreda Artist Collective

Yatreda is a family of artists resurrecting Ethiopia’s century-long legends through imagery. The collective’s name is a combination of two Amharic words: fence and debt. Growing up it was the nickname of the group’s leader Kiya Tadele. The other members include Roman Tadele, a doctor with a passion for painting and writing, Suzy Tadele, a future fashion designer who sews historical costumes by hand, and Tigist and Abiy, craftspeople who now build photo equipment and reflectors. The only non-family member in the group is photographer Joey Lawrence.

Kiya who was a model for many years always found herself drawn to everything happening around the camera more than what she had to do in front of it. In an interview with Edition, she recalls her blooming interest, “I always knew something was different within me because I felt more familiar with the photographer and lighting crew than with the other models.”

This sparked her interest in art rooted in culture, “My influences are not vast like someone who went and studied every art history. They are simple, drawn from the few talented artists who I assisted and shaped the world around me – African history, Ethiopian culture. I am influenced by artists whose work is international but maintains an unbreakable connection to our homeland, like Mulatu Astatke and Gigi Shibabaw.”

The collective’s art uses the latest technology like blockchain and NFTs, to “preserve and present something old… This mix of old and new is to suggest the timeline of our history doesn’t simply end; these stories are not finished. They belong to the past but also belong to us today – the art is about rediscovering our original selves once again.”

With NFTs, they can curate unobstructed cultural visions, create unique artistic experiences, and easily share their art with the world. And the collective did just that in 2021 when they released their first-ever NFT project, “Kingdoms of Ethiopia.” The portraits told a poignant story of past Ethiopian kings, kingdoms, and warriors.

Strong Hair

Yatreda’s latest NFT “Strong Hair” released in February this year, is a 100 motion portraits of different Ethiopian hairstyles (afros, shaved patterns, and unique braids from remote regions) that capture the diversity and power of African hair.

Regarding the series, Kiya told the publication, “This is a lot deeper than just hair. Our hair is a sculpture full of meaning… I want everyone to be proud of their strong African hair. My goal is not only to preserve what remains. It’s to help bring these styles back. Not just for Ethiopia, not just for Africa, but for the world.”

The NFT that took many months to complete shows hair as a vessel of culture and as an art form, but it also documents how hair can represent identity, singular expressions, and the phases of life.

 

In her explanation of the series, she stressed to Okay Africa how much the crypto world has impacted Yatreda’s work and why it is an empowering space for creators, “Without NFTs, none of this work has a real home. Why do I say this? Because if we simply uploaded it to YouTube or Instagram, maybe it would be appreciated with likes. Those likes benefit only large companies, who give very little back to the actual creators who are the soil of their platform.”

In its artwork and its innovative choices, the woman-led collective is showing that cultural artwork is valuable, copyright ownership is possible and innovation can advance artists who choose it- all while preserving living histories for future generations.

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