White Male for Sale (2021)
White Male For Sale is a conceptual NFT project. The NFT is a perpetually looped 00:01:10 video of a white male on an auction block on a street corner in a Black neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. The project incorporates a live auction of the NFT video.
When NFTs broke into the public lexicon, the “F” in NFT—Fungible—resonated strangely for me. NFT’s are Non Fungible Tokens that confer uniqueness to digital artworks. But I heard the term fungible in connection with its use by scholars of the history of slavery. People are inherently non-fungible. But as slavery became an integral part of developing capitalism, enslavers sought to turn people into commodities and make them fungible. In the 16th – 18th century the Portuguese and the Spanish used a system called Pieza de India through which people were quantified and valued in relation to an idealized slave—or a “piece of India.” Later, in the ledgers of 18th-19th century American slavers, people are referred to as No. 1 slaves, No. 2 slaves, etc.—a means by which unique people, for example a 35 year old healthy male skilled in carpentry could be equated to a 20-year-old woman (possibly unskilled) survivor of yellow fever, with two children.
Capitalism, born in slavery and colonialism, in an ever relentless pursuit of profit, forms the foundation of modern society. There would be no modern world as we know it without it and much contemporary thinking is rooted in this past.
White Male For Sale takes this history of commodification as a point of departure. During much of the history of America, enslaved people were sold at auction. Frequently these auctions would take place on a street corner. The enslaved person would be made to stand on a block as they were auctioned. Advertisements announcing “Negros for sale” were common. White Male for Sale references this.
The White Male for Sale NFT video is a slow motion shot of a generic white male, in typical middle class work shirt and pants, standing, relatively motionless as Black Brooklyn passes by. As the video seamlessly loops this auction goes on forever. This simple “substitution” calls into question the whole history of slavery, capitalism and the ideology of white supremacy, with a particular relevance to the US.
Extending the conceptual project, the NFT was auctioned, live, at Christie’s auction house in their Postwar to Present auction, October 1, 2021. The auction is part of the NFT and completed the project