‘We’re Told It’s Not Really for Us’: NFT Mega-Collector the Beauty and the Punk on Her Quest to Empower Women in the Crypto Sphere
What's rarer than Apes? Women in crypto. She founded Rise DAO to change that.
My goal of tracking down and interviewing the mysterious NFT collector Beauty and the Punk—also known as “B”—begins, appropriately, with a negotiation. B declines to connect via phone, instead suggesting the alternative telenetworking app Discord, home base for the crypto and NFT community. A compromise is reached, and in the end we conduct the interview via the more mainstream video messaging app Zoom.
Displaying only her Twitter avatar on the video feed, B refuses to divulge her real name, her age, or where she’s from. But she reveals that she is a woman in her 30s who was born in “a developing country” but has lived in Europe “for years now,” and says she has a career “as a consultant.” Her tone is friendly and gregarious, and she speaks in a British-tinged international accent that’s hard to place.
As a woman in the almost exclusively male crypto community, B admits that she’s something of a unicorn. Her bona fides equal or exceed her peers’: she holds the coveted Ape OG status, signaling that she claimed several uber-rare CryptoPunk Apes upon their initial release in 2017. There are just 24 Apes among the 10,000 total CryptoPunks, making them one of the most sought-after and prestigious collectibles in the crypto-art community. Today, the owners of these super-scarce primates are revered as pioneering visionaries who understood and invested in NFTs long before they went mainstream.
Today, B’s NFT portfolio focuses on artists from developing countries and women, as well as photography and music NFTs. As part of her quest to boost women in the crypto sphere, she recently started Rise DAO, a decentralized autonomous organization that helps them establish themselves in the NFT and tech space.
Speaking to Artnet News, B tells the story of how she stumbled into NFTs more or less by accident, how she asserts herself within the male-dominated scene, and her predictions for the future of NFTs and blockchain technology.
How did you get into the crypto-art space? Did you grow up with art in the home? Did you collect art before?
Yes, I did collect art before, though not as much. My oldest piece is from the 1500s.
So you were collecting antiquities?
Not necessarily, but my collection included antiquities. I collected female artists that I love. I was a little bit into crypto in 2016 and 2017, which is how I found out about the CryptoPunks, and that was the beginning of my NFT journey, although I didn’t know they were NFTs at the time.
In 2017 I claimed the Punks and four Apes. Two days after the claim, I put an Ape up for sale and I forgot about it. And then one day on Twitter I saw a tweet from Larva Labs saying that the Ape had been sold. I thought, “I think that’s my Ape!” I wasn’t even sure, because it had been two years, but it turns out that it was my ape that sold, and that’s how I got back into everything.
I got into Discord and I did my Twitter profile a bit later. In the beginning I was the Beauty and the Punk, without saying that I owned this portfolio or identifying myself as a woman. Eventually I thought it was important that both facts came out. I saw that there were not many women CryptoPunk collectors. I actually don’t know any other woman claimers—there was one who sold her portfolio a couple of months ago, or maybe a year ago, but I don’t know of any others, and none with my kind of portfolio. I thought it was important to come out and show that it’s not just men.
What attracted you to crypto art? And when did you decide to start collecting in earnest?
It was kind of inevitable. I just saw things that I loved, I wanted to have them, and I had the means to purchase. I didn’t set out to be a collector; I just started buying so many things that I became one. It was just natural for me to have beautiful things that moved me. I was dormant for a while, but when I sold the Ape I became fascinated by what was happening in this space. It was amazing and I didn’t want to leave.
It almost sounds like you stumbled upon this by accident. You claimed these early NFTs and didn’t do anything with them for a couple years. Then out of the blue someone bought the Ape you had put up for sale but forgot about, and all of a sudden you realized that you might be onto something?
Well, I knew there was something there. I was already a little into Ethereum and Bitcoin, but for someone that knows and appreciates the technology, having art on the blockchain seemed so interesting that there had to be more to it. I believed in it. And that’s the reason I put one of my four Apes up for sale. The one I sold was one of the rarest ones, and I believed that it had to be worth something—not only monetary value, but there had to be value to something this different. I didn’t know when it was going to sell, and it took three years, but I knew someone would have to see the value that we saw when we claimed them. I didn’t claim as many as some others, but I’m quite happy with my collection, I cannot complain.
And then it was just such a wonderful community. I think it’s one of the things I like most about this: we support each other, we help each other. It’s just—it’s so nice, it’s a great environment to be in, and you just don’t wanna let go.
It’s interesting to compare similarities and differences between your experience in the crypto art space and the conventional art world. One parallel that you brought up is community, which is also really important in the art world. So maybe you’d like to say a little bit more about the NFT community?
It’s what brought me into the space, what kept me in the space, and it’s why I believe in the space. I like projects more for their community than for any drops, future utility, or roadmaps. I believe in projects if they have a community and have a soul. I have CryptoPunks, and while I actually don’t have Bored Apes, I appreciate them for the art and I appreciate them for the community that has developed around them. Cool Cats, DeadFellaz—whether they are big or small projects, I believe they’re here for the long run because of the people that rally around them. This is priceless and genuine, something you cannot possibly manufacture. People donate their time to be with like-minded people, and they see themselves in the art that was generated by the project. If you are more edgy, or you are the friendlier comedian type, you will find like-minded people and you want to succeed with them. That’s another thing I see a lot in the community, people helping each other out. Usually when there’s a lot of money involved, it’s a bit more cutthroat, but I haven’t seen it interfere here. We really still want to see everyone make it. I don’t know if it’s naive to think that this could last, but I hope so.
Is there anyone in the community that you know in real life? Whom you don’t know purely digitally and that you spend time with?
That’s a small number.
Small, very small. But there’s so many people that I feel genuinely connected to, just have never seen in real life.
Do you miss that? Would you like to meet people and have a personal relationship?
Definitely! I want to go to these NFT events in New York, Miami, or London. Right now I haven’t been able to go, but I am really hoping to meet these people. We engage in a really close way but it’s just online—can you imagine how it would be if we would actually see each other’s faces and feed off of emotion? When you see the spark in someone else’s eye and it’s the same spark that you have, there’s just more to it.
What kind of NFT artworks do you generally gravitate towards? And what do you like to buy?
That’s difficult, because if you look at my collection there’s a little bit of everything. I have videos; I have drawings; I have photography; and I collect a lot of women, which I love. That’s not something I necessarily look for, but it turns out that it speaks to me on a different level than male-produced pieces do because we share experiences. I just relate more to female artists and consequently find myself buying more by them.
But I have everything. I have PFPs [profile pictures], I have one-of-ones, I have editions, I have music, I have photography… as long as it moves some part of me. I am multifaceted, I’m a complete human being, and it’s not one color that defines me. Whatever brings me joy in some way, I will try to acquire.
Do you live with your art? How do you present it? Do you show it on video screens?
I have 400 or 500 pieces, and have only sold a couple. I did buy screens because I just need to see the things I have. They’re so beautiful. They make me happy. They make me uncomfortable. They make me feel, and I love having them. I cannot just keep them on my computer. I have to have something that I can look at. I have one or two screens and I shuffle through the art that I own, depending on the season, or depending on how I’m feeling. It’s quite flexible. There isn’t one piece of art that I spent all my money on that I’ll have to live with forever.
How do you see the NFT space developing in the future? Artistically, culturally, and financially?
There’s no way other than up. I believe NFTs are not just for art. Blockchain is a technology that will permeate our lives, we’ll use it in ways that we haven’t even thought of, and I don’t believe in the future we’ll be using the term NFT solely for art, as we do now. Therefore art on the blockchain, art that is an NFT, will be broadly accepted—I don’t believe that people will be turning up their noses at it, as they do now.
There are still a lot of traditional art collectors opposed to the thought of having a digital piece. They will have to evolve, or the time will come where they aren’t around anymore and it will evolve anyway, it’s inevitable. Web 3.0 is here, and I believe web 3.0 will only phase out when web 4.0 arrives. There will be a larger market for art, there will be more money for it. People will spend more on digital art, and I think that’s a great thing. I think we’ll be seeing a wider range of works, such as photography, music, poetry, and events. We’re still early enough that the frontiers haven’t been established and we’re still breaking new ground. I’m a huge believer that engaging with the metaverse is going be far more common, and we’re going see a lot of users and a lot of capital flowing into these markets as well.
The crypto-art space is arguably even more male and bro-y than the “regular” art world, from the content of the artworks themselves to the actors in the space. How do you rationalize that reality as a woman?
It’s something I’m actually trying to change. I want to see more women. I want to hear more voices that share experiences with mine. I have to say, I have been very welcomed by all men that I have interacted with. But my company in CryptoPunks are mostly male, and my company in the Nouns DAO, as far as they know, are only male. I’m the first female holder of a Noun, and it’s 140 Nouners, but because it’s a more expensive DAO, they’re just men.
It is insane. They want to see more women as well, but it’s difficult because women don’t usually have the means to get in. In 2016, how many women in tech were investing in crypto and had the opportunity to reinvest? A lot of these guys have been investing for so long and their portfolio has grown a lot. How many women have other women to talk to and say, ‘Hey, have you seen this?’ A lot of great opportunities come through peer talk. But if there are no women in tech, how are they going to share knowledge? It’s very hard. Twitter and Discord are great tools for knowledge dissemination, but nevertheless, you kind of need to have your offline peers on the same page to bring you into all of this. It’s difficult to simply stumble upon it and succeed alone before you find a community. Guys have had this community from the very beginning. Women—we are told that we are not really good at tech. We’re told it’s not really for us. ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’And the men have had the opposite—they’ve been told to go for it!
Is it possible to get into collecting crypto art without understanding the tech or being involved in the tech industry?
I think so, but you need to generate enough income to cover all of your basic needs before you can start to think about collecting art. It enriches us in many ways as humans, but it is a luxury. There are women that are selling well and they are trying to invest their money back into the community and back into projects. They are starting to grow their portfolios, and they are starting to enrich their wallets, and they are getting seats at the table. But it’s not that easy.
A really interesting thing I learned about you is that you will only sell artworks from your collection to other women. Why did you decide to do that?
That’s not exactly true! What I did was, I posted one tweet saying that because I have still three Apes and three CryptoPunks, that I was thinking about pledging to sell one of my Apes to a women, because I would like to see a woman or a woman-led organization with a profile picture that means that much in this space. If you see someone with an Ape, you know that they have either been in the space long enough to have claimed it, or believed in it enough to put their money where their mouth is, showing that they are serious about this environment.
Are you going to follow through on that pledge to sell those particular artworks to a woman?
Not only women! I still have two Apes. In any case I could sell one to a man and I still have another one to sell to a woman. I cannot box myself in and say that I will only sell to a woman because I cannot push my agenda onto anyone, and I don’t know if a woman will have the resources to meet my price. I’m not going to sell it for 23 ETH just because it’s a woman. It will be a fair price; it’s not a charity. I’m not just giving away an Ape or a Punk because I want to have a woman on board. At least not yet. Maybe I’ll come to that decision one day.
So you’re starting an organization to raise up women in the male-dominated crypto art space. What are the organization’s goals and initiatives?
I’m starting Rise DAO. We want women to succeed in the tech and NFT space, so if you want to be a programmer or developer, we want to help you with that. We’ll focus on developing countries first, but hopefully we will have so much in the treasury that we can just help anyone with a valid point that comes to us. There will be a selection process; I have no idea how many applicants we’re going to have.
What I’ve heard from a lot of women learning to code is that they go into these Discords full of men, and they don’t feel confident in voicing their doubts. If they have questions about the programming language or the code itself, they don’t feel comfortable sharing it there. They don’t want to be put down or laughed at. So we would like to have this small space at the beginning to get them ready to fly on their own, so they don’t have to jump into the deep end from the beginning. We want to provide a space or a Discord where they will have support from a programmer to ask questions and get training for coding or generative art.
We will probably start with P5GS, so women can be trained in that as well. We are also reaching out to artists who are already making digital or generative art to help them with NFTs, platforms, and sales. We always see tweets asking us to show more women artists. I want us to have so many women that we don’t have to see those tweets anymore.
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