Cover Red Hong Yi

Malaysian Artist Red Hong Yi shares her experience of creating her first NFT art piece—and the potential the medium holds for digital artists everywhere

The digital art world made global headlines in March this year when artist Beeple sold an NFT—a one-of-a-kind digital artwork verified on the blockchain—for US$69.3 million.

Quickly seeing the potential of the medium, Red Hong Yi became one of the first Malaysian artists to sell art via NFT soon after. In July 2021, she sold her piece Doge To The Moon in an online auction for 36.3 Ethereum, which is currently valued at approximately US$112,700. Part of the proceeds of the sale of the NFT was donated to NGO Mercy Malaysia’s Covid-19 pandemic relief fund, with a further portion allocated to a series of community art projects in the country.

Red says she was pleasantly surprised at just how well the NFT piece sold, expecting only half the final price. It's definitely one of her best-selling artworks but she declines to reveal any other details. 

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After the success of her first piece, Red is already planning to work on five additional NFT pieces as part of her “Memebank” series, which will feature spoofs and redesigns of famous banknotes such as the US Dollar, Euro and Chinese Yuan.

The Sabah-born artist is known for her unique style, using everyday objects and materials and turning them into striking installations. One of her most notable recent works was commissioned for the the cover of April 2021 issue of Time magazine, in which she used 50,000 matches to create an atlas of the world and set them alight, denoting the severity of the global climate crisis.

Red says she learnt about NFTs from her friends in the cryptocurrency space. “There was a lot of talk about how cryptocurrency and blockchain will literally change the way we transact. That inspired me to come up with my first NFT piece, which comes from the idea of it being a new way to print money in the digital age,” she explains.

The former architect says she chose to print the meme-themed banknote on silk, using a 158cm wide copper plate. The choice of material was intentional, as copper plates were used by the Song dynasty in China to create of the first paper banknotes.

“Like printed money, there is only one master plate that my Memebank note is printed from. The true owner of the artwork is the one who holds the original copper plate and the NFT,” Red says. “Even though the image of the banknote can be captured and circulated around, there is only one true copy.”

The Memebank series is a labour of love for Red, who used her savings to buy the materials and hired a team to help her on the project. “This is my favourite project I’ve embarked on as it gave me a lot of creative freedom to express my ideas,” she says.

Red says that the increase in interest in digital art has created new, exciting avenues for artists to express themselves. “Though I love making huge art installations, I’m glad the option is open to artists to hone their craft digitally, where it can be stored and sold easily through methods like NFTs,” she says.

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Another component of NFTs that Red highlights is the potential of the technology to support artists long after they have sold their piece: NFTs allow artists to earn royalties on their work if it is sold to another party.

The experience over the last year has made Red even more optimistic about the power of NFTs to reshape the art world for the better. “I think as creatives we have to work with change because that's also a part of being creative. Don't be afraid of change.”

See more Gen.T honourees from The Arts category of the Gen.T List 2021.

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