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Burn, Frida, Burn

October 5, 2022
Frida Kahlo, in a photograph taken by her father Guillermo

Frida Kahlo

The destruction of art is never something to celebrate or look forward to. Whether it’s a militant organization destroying cultural heritage or some kid at a museum accidentally tripping and putting his hand through a Picasso canvas, it always makes my heart sink. However, woe transforms into annoyance when someone does something intentionally for a ridiculous reason. That is exactly what happened back in January, when the tech group Spice DAO blew $3 million on a rare book of concept art for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s unmade Dune adaptation. They wanted to mint NFTs based on the book’s contents and then destroy it. However, public outcry against destroying the book and the group’s inability to mint their NFTs because of simple copyright issues resulted in the organization’s dissolution in July 2022. Maybe some people should have learned from Spice DAO’s mistakes, namely the Mexican tech entrepreneur Martín Mobarak. He’s now in hot water after publishing content of him destroying a Frida Kahlo drawing allegedly worth $10 million.

Mobarak is mainly known as the creator of the cryptocurrency AGCoin, which, as of October 2nd, is worth about $25 per token. At a private event at his mansion in Miami, Mobarak filmed his destruction of what appears to be Frida Kahlo’s Fantasmones siniestros, an ink-and-watercolor drawing from the artist’s journal created in 1944. He set it alight while the audience cheered and a mariachi band began playing in the background, with Mobarak saying that the work has now “permanently transitioned into the metaverse”. Mobarak’s plan was to mint 10,000 digital versions of the drawing in a project known as Frida.NFT, which seeks to support the great artist’s memory and legacy. While this event occurred on July 30th, coincidentally two days after Spice DAO’s dissolution, Mobarak is coming back in the news again because his little stunt has caught the attention of Mexico’s highest cultural authority: the National Institute of Fine Arts & Literature. The Institute recently announced that it would launch an investigation into the destruction. This is because the Institute considers Kahlo’s work ‘national treasures’, making their deliberate destruction a criminal act. But Mobarak may face another obstacle to his plans similar to the one Spice DAO encountered. In many countries, including the United States, an artist’s work only comes into the public domain seventy-five years after their death. Because Kahlo passed away in 1954, Mobarak does not have the right to digitally reproduce the drawing lest Kahlo’s estate sue for copyright infringement. He would have to wait at least until 2029 to pursue this project.

There is doubt whether the destroyed work was Frida Kahlo’s original drawing since the provenance is a little fuzzy. The work was previously in possession of Mary-Anne Martin Fine Art, a New York gallery specializing in works by Kahlo, her husband Diego Rivera, and other twentieth-century Mexican masters like Tamayo, Orozco, and Siqueiros. Martin sold the drawing to the Vergel Foundation in 2004, which then sold it to a private collector in 2013. However, Mobarak has claimed that he purchased the Kahlo drawing directly from Martin in 2015, despite Martin claiming she had never heard of Mobarak before his stunt in Miami. While the Frida.NFT project claims that the work’s authenticity was verified on the day of the event, I doubt that the destroyed work was the real thing. I think it’s unlikely that a supposed admirer of Kahlo’s work would do such a thing, if not because of legal and financial ramifications, then just based on principle. But I guess we’ll soon find out.