Celebrated multimedia artist Miltos Manetas has announced his new artwork, a collection of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) dedicated to imprisoned WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. 
Dubbed This Cannot Be Erased, the landmark collection will be part of the 7th Internet Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale Festival, which runs from 23 April to 27 November. The Internet Pavilion, the festival’s only tech tent, is this year dedicated to the beleaguered activist and carries the tagline “Assange is Internet Internet is Assange.”
Manetas’ highly anticipated NFT drop features no less than 111 tokenized portraits of the Australian, whose forthcoming extradition to the US was last week rubber-stamped by US Home Secretary Priti Patel. The historic NFTs will be minted in three phases of 37 tokens starting June 23.
Manetas is no stranger to Assange, the pair having become good friends many years ago. Assange’s cause is one Manetas passionately supports; indeed, the artist has been a passionate believer in transparency and freedom on the internet since the late 1990s.
In 2009, Manetas created the first edition of the Internet Pavilion after being commissioned by the Venice Biennale, after which the artist invited a number of representatives of the activist website The Pirate Bay to inaugurate the Embassy of Piracy. Last year, he donated 222 oil-on-canvas paintings of Assange to supporters of the jailed journalist, a move that helped drive the #AssangePower movement.
This Cannot Be Erased, a collaboration with British composer and producer Howie B and art director Jerome Sans, is a continuation of that work as holders of the 111 tokenized portraits are set to become Trustees of the AIIA (Assange is Internet Internet is Assange). Essentially, this means that they can exert influence in the Internet Pavilion to ensure funds raised are invested in projects that reflect the theme at the heart of Assange’s case: namely, freedom in the internet age.
The collection has been tokenized on Materia, an emerging blockchain-based platform founded by art industry professionals such as curators and collectors, in partnership with blockchain experts. Although Materia has its own native chain, the platform’s architecture is integrated with the world’s most used blockchain network and one that has become synonymous with NFT art: Ethereum.
Although Assange has no involvement with the collection, Manetas confirmed that his friend is aware of the drop. Unfortunately, Assange’s contact with the outside world is mostly restricted to hurried phone calls with his legal team, which is frantically working to put the brakes on his extradition. If convicted of espionage charges in the States, the WikiLeaks figurehead could face a lifetime prison sentence with a maximum penalty of 175 years.
Manetas decided to commit his Assange paintings to the blockchain to ensure that they never suffer the censorship their subject has endured. A pledge reflected by the collection’s name, This Cannot Be Erased.
This is not the first time Julian Assange’s cause has been taken up by blockchain enthusiasts. Earlier this year, crypto artist Pak unveiled his NFT series Censored, which raised over $54 million to finance the journalist’s legal battle. Interestingly, Manetas was the conduit for that collaboration having introduced Assange to Pak.
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