How Lebanese artist Nour Hage made the jump from fashion design to NFTs

When Nour Hage first heard about non-fungible tokens during a conversation with friends, she was so intrigued that she started looking for them the very next day. Known as NFT, tokens are unique certificates used to authenticate ownership of digital assets such as artwork, videos, music, and even tweets.

Blockchain technology ensures that NFTs cannot be replicated, tampered with or stolen, and that changes in ownership and value are tracked as tokens are traded online, primarily using the platform. form of Ethereum cryptocurrency.

For Hage, a Lebanese fashion designer who began venturing into the fine art world over the past two years, working primarily with textiles, the idea of ​​creating her own NFTs had an unexpected appeal.

“When I started reading about them earlier this year… it triggered something in me and I became obsessed with it for a while. It’s a bit of a breath of fresh air because it’s a new format, ”she says. “It’s a new world, in a way.”

Hage already knew how to use digital art tools, relying on them to create many sketches and patterns for his clothing line. Starting out in women’s fashion in Beirut in 2013, before moving into men’s fashion when she moved to London a few years later, she made a name for herself as an enduring fashion designer who creates contemporary pieces and minimalists inspired by Middle Eastern culture and history. . His interest in Arab history – and his love of textiles – have continued in his work as an artist.

Hage made her first foray into the world of fine art in 2019, when she was commissioned by the Arab British Center and Dr Johnson’s House to create a piece for a group exhibition exploring the impact of Arabs and Muslims in Elizabethan England.

The result was Sultane Isabelle, a spectacular sculptural strawberry in linen and silk, hand dyed with turmeric and indigo. The installation included small vials of spices and pigments, referencing England’s historic trade alliances with Morocco and the Ottoman Empire.

“I was already thinking of getting into textile art and I guess it was a timely opportunity. It allowed me to explore textile art in the context of what I had previously researched and what interests me already, so it was like a natural transition, ”says Hage. “Whether it’s my design practice, my physical textile practice or my digital art practice, they are all based on different branches of the same research. “

Her decision to start working as an artist was driven primarily by a desire to harness in-depth historical and cultural research that was not expressed through her clothing, she explains.

“All of my artistic practice is based on the identity of the Middle East, in particular on how women are as essential beings who pass on culture through generations, whether through food, clothing and textiles. , or through cultural practice. “

NFT artists support each other, especially women or artists of color

Nour Hage, artist and designer

His first three NFTs were made from pieces of textiles from his studio, arranged to create colorful digital portraits against a backdrop of hypnotic movement. She chose to capture three of the most powerful historical female figures in the Arab world: the former Egyptian queen Nefertiti; Dido, the founder and queen of Carthage, a Phoenician city-state located in modern Tunisia; and Zenobia, queen of the Palmyrene Empire, located in modern Syria.

Venturing into NFTs for the first time, she wasn’t sure what to expect, but Hage found the digital art world surprisingly welcoming.

“NFT artists support each other, especially women or artists of color. This support network also appealed to me because it’s something that is lacking in the fashion world, where things are extremely competitive, ”she says. “It was just like I could do anything in this world and it was exciting.”

Nour Hage's 'Queen Nefertiti'.  Lebanese artist chose three of the Arab world's most powerful historical figures for his first three NFTs

Another attractive aspect of TVNs is that they allow artists to retain a stake in their work by entitling them to a percentage of future sales.

“Basically the NFT is a contract – you build a contract on the blockchain,” Hage explains. “What’s great is that it’s very beneficial for the artist. For example, you can say that every time this NFT is resold, as the creator I get 10% or 20% of the sale. “

In contrast, for a self-proclaimed environmentalist, cryptocurrencies have a notoriously terrible carbon footprint.

“It’s a concern,” she admits, saying Ether, the currency she uses, is “a little less bad for the environment than Bitcoin, for example.”

“They are trying to make it even more environmentally friendly, therefore completely carbon neutral,” she says. “I think they will be able to make the switch by the end of this year or the beginning of next year.”

Hage hit his first three NFTs in June. To his surprise, they were purchased within three days. In July, she had already struck a new NFT, a portrait of her grandmother based on a photograph from 1952. The piece drew on reflections on how identity is rooted in the transmission of memories from generation to generation. .

“How who we are is conveyed to us and how we take that knowledge with us as we move around the world,” she wrote on Instagram, where she shares her work.

In the meantime, Hage has embarked on a new stage in the art world – a prestigious scholarship to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

“They asked me to look at their Middle Eastern collection and select textile pieces and jewelry to research. I will have the opportunity to discuss these objects with the curators and, at the end, I will make a proposal for a work of textile art. If they approve it, they will buy it too, ”she said.

The first artist to participate in a new scholarship in the museum’s Jameel Gallery, home to Islamic and Middle Eastern collections, Hage will spend eight months working with curator Rachel Dedman, exploring a collection that includes more than 19,000 objects from the Middle East. -East. and North Africa, dating from the 7th to the 20th century.

As in love with the art world as she is, Hage also plans to continue her work as a fashion designer.

“Part of my brain only thinks in terms of design and part of my brain only thinks as an artist, so I constantly need that balance in my life,” she explains.

Whatever its future, the fabric seems destined to be part of it.

“I’m obsessed with textiles – with the textures, the feel, with different shades of color,” she says. “I don’t mean to say that I will never work with anything other than textiles [but] at the moment i can’t see myself using any other medium.

Artist in Focus is our series that highlights young artists from the region

Update: Aug 9, 2021, 7:04 am

Joseph E. Golightly