Laya Mathikshara: to the Moon and back with NFTs

13-year-old Laya Mathikshara is exploring space, codes and the pandemic through NFTs

Art is no longer limited to traditional silos such as the white cube or plain digital. The new creative economy deals in cryptocurrency, collects non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and offers complete transparency. This opens up the field to pretty much any creator, which explains the success of artists like 13-year-old Laya Mathikshara from Chennai.

This May, she minted her first NFT, an animated artwork titled What if, Moon had life? It shows the “cold” satellite’s active core bubbling. The teenager listed the reserve price as 0.384400 ETH (the token of the Ethereum blockchain) — “inspired by the distance between the Earth and the Moon (3,84,400 km). It sold for 0.39 ETH (approximately ₹90,500) on the platform Foundation. “My parents didn’t really believe in NFTs. Nor did I initially,” she tells The Hindu Weekend. “Then, three weeks later, someone bought it. That’s when I got the confidence it could work and began minting other artworks.”

Also read | NFTs expanding the definition of ‘artist’

Clockwise from left: NFTs ‘What if, Moon had life?’, ‘Black Hole’, and ‘Radial’ 

Virtual bragging rights

An NFT is a digital asset that exists on a blockchain, which certifies authenticity and ownership. For Mathikshara, who started painting at the age of nine, her first NFT was a big step. It all began during lockdown last year, when, taking a cue from her sister, a computational neuroscientist, she started to learn programming languages such as Python and C++. This naturally transitioned into an interest in digital art. “I had just three to four hours of [online] school, so I began looking for hobbies. I found digital art and animated videos cool,” says the student of Chennai Public School. “I started by learning programmes like Blender and Cinema 4D. It was hard and I messed up a lot, but I watched YouTube videos and figured it out.” Currently, she has 17 creations listed on Rarible, 13 on Foundation, and seven on Indian platform WazirX.

Among her most recent works is Gratitude, a 110-second short film minted on WazirX. It was screened at the 16th Busan International Kids and Youth Film Festival last month. Next, the typography-and-animation work that pays tribute to Covid-19 warriors will be screened in theatres in New York City in October, for the All American High School Film Festival. “It’s like the Oscars for teenagers,” Mathikshara says excitedly.

Mathikshara’s ‘Gramaphone’ NFT 

Into the metaverse

In the last year, the artist says she’s found a sense of community in the NFT world. “I was able to get in touch with a lot of creators, and understand how artists got into the NFT space,” she says, adding that contacts are everything. They are important for recognition and to improve chances of getting a bid on your collectibles. Gratitude, for instance, was sold within an hour to Indian artist and musician Ramesh Gopal, an avid collector on WazirX, at its listed price of 300 WRX (approximately ₹30,000).

Also read | Making sense of the NFT boom in art, music and fashion in India

Between the speed of technological developments and the changing interests of a teenager, Mathikshara is picking up something new regularly. “One week ago, I didn’t know what generative art [which incorporates code] was. Today, I have made one,” she says, referring to her recent works made using programming software p5.js. “It’s all very fascinating and I wouldn’t want to choose a particular career. I would say something in the metaverse — at the intersection of art and tech, or maybe games,” she says, referring to the virtual world that is finding new proponents in the likes of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

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