Cuban artists blocked from once-promising NFT trading sites

Dec 19, 2022, 9:13 PM | Updated: Dec 20, 2022, 12:58 pm
FILE - Photographer Gabriel Guerra Bianchini poses holding his photo collage titled  “Hotel Haban...

FILE - Photographer Gabriel Guerra Bianchini poses holding his photo collage titled “Hotel Habana 3/10” in Havana, Cuba, March 31, 2021. The photo is the first NFT, Non-Fungible Token, to be auctioned by an artist resident in Cuba, but in 2022, doors began to close for artists like him as key NFT trading platforms have gradually blocked Cuban artists on and off the island from their platforms. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File)

(AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File)

HAVANA (AP) — When everything seemed to be going wrong, Cuban multimedia artist Alejandro Pablo García Alarcón found a solution in what some might consider an unusual place: NFTs.

Artists like him have been dealt multiple blows in recent years: The pandemic wreaked havoc on Cuba’s tourism sector, sending art sales plummeting. American sanctions, while not explicitly applying to art, made it harder for Cubans to sell their works. And for artists whose work can veer into political commentary, like García Alarcón’s, it can be hard to get featured in Cuban galleries.

NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, are digital images registered on a blockchain and generally purchased with cryptocurrencies. They offer artists such as García Alarcón a rare loophole because they can profit from their art on an international stage with few speech restrictions due to the medium’s decentralized nature.

“The first thing that drew me to it was the freedom,” said García Alarcón, known best by his artist name, Paolo De. “You can commercialize your work without intermediaries, without having to pass through a filter.”

But this year, doors have begun to close for artists from Cuba and other countries facing U.S. sanctions because key NFT trading sites have gradually blocked them from doing business on their platforms, often with little or no explanation.

García Alarcón is among at least 30 Cuban artists whose profiles have been delisted from at least two American-owned NFT trading sites sites, including the largest one, OpenSea, and KnownOrigin, according to Cuban NFT artist collectives.

Neither site responded to an Associated Press email seeking comment.

The delistings have extended to some of the biggest names in the Cuban digital art scene, including Havana’s most popular interactive art space, Fábrica de Arte Cubano, and photographer Gabriel Guerra Bianchini, the first Cuba resident to auction off a piece as an NFT.

In March 2021, his work “Hotel Habana 3/10,” which features a mix of photos of Havana’s old, classic buildings stacked on top of each other, made a splash in the local art scene. His OpenSea page now reads “404. This page is lost.”

On its website, OpenSea boasts that it is “building an open digital economy” and that users can “trade their items freely.”

García Alarcón began trading NFTs on OpenSea in April 2021, using his first work as a political commentary on the controversial detention of protesting Cuban artists in January of that year. He earned $200 from it and proceeded to sell around 20 more NFTs through the website.

At one point, OpenSea promoted García Alarcón as an artist to watch. But last March, he was suddenly locked out of his account without explanation.

“They sell you the idea of freedom, that you can show your work, that there’s no censorship,” García Alarcón said. “You use the platform to show what you can’t show in your own country, and then this happens.”

When an artist is taken off of a platform, the art they sold is also removed from the site. Although the NFT continues to exist on the blockchain and is available to view on other NFT trading sites, artists say it’s often viewed as a loss by collectors who are confused or want to display the art on more popular platforms.

Although OpenSea hasn’t said why it removed the work of the Cuban artists, it likely has to do with the perceived risks of running afoul of U.S. sanctions. Amid criticism for delisting Iranian artists earlier this year, OpenSea told the crytocurrency news site Decrypt in March: “We have a zero tolerance policy for the use of our services by sanctioned individuals or entities and people located in sanctioned countries.”

The costs of violating the sanctions can be steep, as the U.S. Treasury Department fined the cryptocurrency exchange Bittrex $24 million in October for allowing traders to evade American sanctions in places such as Cuba, Syria, Iran and Sudan.

Though the U.S. has imposed economic sanctions on Cuba for more than six decades, including bans on commercial products such as cigars and rum, those sanctions don’t apply to a lot of Cuban art. But in some cases, NFTs have come to be considered more as an investment vehicle, selling for tens of millions of dollars during the 2021 boom.

For Gianni D’Alerta, a Cuban American who has lived in Miami his entire life and has never visited the island, the medium was “an opportunity to engage with my culture” and bridge a longstanding divide between Cubans on the island and in Miami.

He’s the organizer of NFTcuba.ART, a collective of around 100 Cuban artists around the world. Last week he received an email from OpenSea saying the NFTcuba.ART account was blocked “due to activity that goes against our Terms of Service.”

Artists say they’ve never been told explicitly why their accounts were taken down, and when D’Alerta asked for more details, OpenSea responded that it was “unable to disclose additional details,” emails shared with the AP show.

Some artists theorize that the trading platforms could be doing it out of an overabundance of caution, though others speculate that people who don’t like what certain artists have to say about Cuba could have created accounts to flag those artists’ profiles.

D’Alerta and other collective leaders told the AP that the bans have even extended to personal accounts of Cuban artists who don’t live on the island.

Meanwhile, leaders in the Cuban NFT space worry that the deplatforming could have a long-term chilling effect on Cuban digital artists.

Buying NFTs can already be viewed as risky due to recent instability in the cryptocurrency market, as evidence by the recent collapse of the popular cryptocurrency trading platform FTX and the criminal charges against its founder, Sam Bankman-Fried.

It could be viewed as even more of a risk for those buying from Cuban artists, said D’Alerta, because the art could later disappear from the big platforms.

“It’s heart-wrenching and it’s unfortunate,” he said. “It’s another letdown, you know. Another realization that they’re not part of the world’s community. You can’t participate,’ is basically what (NTF platforms) are saying.”


Follow Megan Janetsky on Twitter:

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - Grey clouds cover the sky over a building of the Credit Suisse bank in Zurich, Switzerland, ...
Associated Press

Credit Suisse posts $1.4B pre-tax loss as woes go on in 4Q

GENEVA (AP) — Credit Suisse on Thursday reported a pre-tax loss of more than 1.3 billion Swiss francs (about $1.4 billion) in the fourth quarter of last year, as its new managers vie to right the top-drawer Swiss bank that has faced a string of setbacks in recent years. The bank also announced the $175 […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

3 dead in apartment building fire in Novosibirsk, Russia

MOSCOW (AP) — A gas explosion in an apartment building in the south-central Russian city of Novosibirsk Thursday morning killed three people, according to the latest reports from local authorities. Novosibirsk is the administrative capital of Siberia and Russia’s third-largest city by population. Regional Gov. Andrey Travnikov confirmed the deaths of three people, noting that […]
1 day ago
FILE - A staff of Nissan car showroom wipes a car on Jan. 31, 2022, in Tokyo. Nissan reported a 55%...
Associated Press

Japan’s Nissan reports better profit as chip crunch eases

TOKYO (AP) — Nissan reported a 55% jump in October-December profit Thursday, as the Japanese automaker seeks to embark on a less bumpy journey with its French alliance partner Renault. Profit for the quarter at Yokohama-based Nissan Motor Co. totaled 50.6 billion yen ($386 million), up from 32.7 billion yen the previous year. Quarterly sales […]
1 day ago
Search teams and emergency aid from around the world are pouring into
Turkey and Syria as rescuers ...
Associated Press

Afghan women, children chase false rumor to Kabul airport

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Hundreds of Afghans, including women and children, dashed toward the Kabul airport after a false rumor spread that flights were leaving for Turkey to help rescue earthquake victims. Videos and photos posted on social media since Wednesday showed dozens of desperate people running on foot in the darkness and cold towards the […]
1 day ago
People warm up with fire in front of destroyed buildings in Antakya, southern Turkey, Wednesday, Fe...
Associated Press

Live Updates I Turkish president to visit quake-hit areas

Rescuers pulled more survivors from beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings Thursday, but hopes were starting to fade of finding many more people alive more than three days after a catastrophic earthquake and series of aftershocks hit Turkey and Syria, killing more than 16,000. The earthquake that razed thousands of buildings in Turkey and Syria […]
1 day ago
FILE - Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning gestures during a press conference at the Min...
Associated Press

Beijing calls US claims over balloons ‘information warfare’

BEIJING (AP) — China on Thursday said U.S. accusations that a downed Chinese balloon was part of an extensive surveillance program amount to “information warfare against China.” The Pentagon on Wednesday said the Chinese balloon shot down off the South Carolina coast Saturday was part of a program involving a number of such airships that […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Cuban artists blocked from once-promising NFT trading sites