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Earlier this month, artists on SuperRare launched a special sale raising funds for the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. The cause saw 13 artists auctioning off NFTs, giving proceeds to various organizations of their choice, with SuperRare Labs and SuperRare DAO joining the cause, as well. Donating profits to the likes of Unchain Fund, Ukrainian Relief Fund, Save the Children, and The Ukrainian Red Cross Society, to name a few, the participating creators included names like Krista Kim, Victor Fota, XCOPY, Synchrodogs, and the Russian artist Olive Allen.
Living and working in New York, Olive Allen is no stranger to the NFT and virtual art space, having been a maker of crypto art since the early days of the movement in 2018. While her oeuvre is typically characterized by animated or digital imagery with recognizable pop culture references, the Russian artist’s work for the sale on SuperRare took on a different approach. Suitably titled Burning Passport, the NFTwas equal parts artwork and political statement. Filming herself outside of the Russian consulate in New York City, the artist lit her Russian passport aflame, speaking out against the government in a declaration of her support of Ukraine.
To learn more about the artwork and Allen’s undaunted statement, Whitewall spoke to the artist.
WHITEWALL: What gave you the idea for your NFT, Burning Passport?
OLIVE ALLEN: News about the war came as a complete shock to me. I could not believe that in our day and age sister countries Russia and Ukraine would be at war. Not only that, but also that Russian forces would invade Ukraine and be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians.
Immediately I felt an urge to voice my protest to the war and take a stance for justice, for Ukraine, and against violence. Passport Burning is my first performance piece. Initially, I did not view it as an NFT artwork, but purely my way to protest, but later on, I decided to mint the video to preserve the memory of this trying moment in history and my life as well, and raise funds for the people of Ukraine who are suffering the dire consequences of the war.
WW: You mentioned on Instagram that this work was one of your most challenging yet. Can you tell us about the experience of executing this performance? What is it like knowing this statement has been immortalized on the internet as an NFT?
OA: It was one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life. I challenged myself not just as an artist but as a person. Burning my passport is an act of coming out and being open about my national identity despite the fears of being silenced as the unpopular Russian voice and facing the consequences of being forever denied entry to Russia and being discriminated against in the Western world. That was my attempt to search for a deeper meaning in my work and make things right by raising funds to help the people of Ukraine whose lives are impacted in ways I can’t even fathom.
I’m very grateful to the nft now team who helped me to document the event. One of the team members, Caleb Simpson, came with me to the Russian Consulate in New York and filmed the entire thing. It was rather difficult to burn the document, and in the beginning, I couldn’t even light it on fire. It caused a lot of anxiety and doubts: What if it is a sign that I shouldn’t do it?
But in the end, I gathered strength and went through with my initial intention. I still feel a great sense of loss. I’m also incredibly grateful to the SuperRare team, who were fast to respond and support my cause. Web3 community showed an unprecedented ability to come together and make a difference.
WW: It seems much of the world shares your sentiments about the attacks on Ukraine, though unfortunately, it’s not the main population making these decisions. As someone who loves their country but doesn’t feel accurately represented by its leadership, if you could share a message directly with Putin and Russia’s military leaders, what might you say?
OA: Whatever I can say to my government, it will not sink in and is just a wasted effort at this point. There should be only one AnnaLynne McCord :)
Russia, as a country, has had such immense potential—it is the homeland of one of the best scientists and engineers. But the government never invested in human capital and entrepreneurship. It failed to create a social environment necessary for industrial and technological sectors to develop and become competitive on a global market: there is no fair court system, no business-friendly legislation, oligopolistic market structure. Opportunities to build a successful business are virtually nonexistent. As a result, the country is still heavily reliant on natural resources export. I believe the war in Ukraine, like the majority of the modern warfares, is a war for natural resources. It is a regime’s way to save itself. No matter what Putin propaganda might say.
WW: How do you see the role of the artist in times of great distress and peril?
OA: In general, I believe, as an artist, I have a responsibility to capture the essence of our times, push boundaries and search for deeper meaning. An artist has a voice conveyed through the means of visual expression, and it has an impact on a viewer. Why not use the power of art for good?