Even within Malaysia, the NFT marketplace is starting to feel quite saturated. Tokens are minted almost constantly, and there’s always some new collection dropping.
While many of them are beautiful, the art often seems to be secondary nowadays, as NFTs’ utilities are taking centre stage.
But amidst the crowd, one particular collection that sees the creation of art as a utility itself is Lonely Planet, a collaborative effort between two parties.
At its core, Zenshin Agency & Creative Studio deals with comics, illustrations, and image licensing. Its founder, Lau Shaw Ming, is actually the president of the Malaysian Comicker Union. But in June last year, the team decided to give NFTs a shot.
Eric Lai, the founder of the Art Gene Studio, saw this effort and decided to reach out. He had hoped that Shaw Ming could give him some guidance on joining the NFT scene.
He wasn’t asking for himself, though. Instead, he was asking for his students.
Special project for special children
When Eric Lai established Art Gene Studio in Ipoh, Perak, the intention wasn’t to only teach children with special needs.
“I think there is an artistic gene in everyone’s genes, whether it’s a special child or a normal child,” he said. “We just want to help discover it through art education.”
Although Eric’s classes are open to anyone who’s keen to learn, many children in his class have special needs.
According to Lonely Planet’s website, “The children possess amazingly artistic talent and have their own stories. Although they exist in the same world as us, they live independently in a universe that we can barely fathom.”
Art, however, can be used as a medium for them to begin expressing their inner world to society.
“For children with special needs, NFT is a sales channel that does not require high costs and frequent exposure,” Shaw Ming explained. “Children with special needs are not good at communicating with the outside world. With our assistance, children can concentrate on creating.”
According to Shaw Ming, special children may lack the opportunity and platforms to publish their work, so Lonely Planet serves as a solution.
A personal connection
As the father of a special child himself, Eric understands on a deeper level what it takes to help and teach a child with special needs.
“The early artistic expressions of special children are very direct and clumsy, but this period is the most powerful,” Eric said.
The child’s first experience with art is telling of their own style. After this, the teacher can begin to teach them about colours, which Eric says is an easy way to express creativity and beauty.
The later stage is to set a theme and direction for the children. With this in mind, an NFT can then be created.
Lonely Planet currently has 38 items minted on its OpenSea account. Each NFT comes with a description of the artist.
The description for one of the artists, Huii, reads as followed:
As the result of low self-esteem, Huii, a 23-year-old girl, was brought to see a psychologist by her family. She usually apologises in advance instead of greeting whenever she meets someone. Huii makes mistakes in whatever she does. However, Huii is looking forward to being in love, yet she keeps saying she doesn’t fit to fall in love. Toning colours and shapes are Huii’s favourite thing to do. Her drawing comprises squares and triangles. She usually finds her self-confidence through drawing.
Clearly, there is a deep understanding between the child and the teacher, who is able to translate their personality and idiosyncrasies into words.
Take another artist’s biography for example. Born in 2005, YJX is an autistic adolescent who loves to laugh. Apparently, he’s also nicknamed as the “paintbrush killer” as he always grips his paintbrushes too hard, which ends up breaking them.
“He also needs to sign his name on every one of his completed drawings, or he’ll feel sad about it,” Lonely Planet wrote in the NFT’s description. And as promised, each of his NFTs has his initials drawn in the corner.
Being able to read about these artists helps give a much deeper meaning to each painting. Lonely Planet’s NFTs are unique not just for the art itself, but for the meaning hidden between each brush stroke.
While YJX’s paintings feel organised, Huii’s are more fluid and wistful. These young artists are able to convey their thoughts through art, and we are, in turn, able to get a glimpse into their minds through the NFTs.
Lonely Planet’s next destination
We have actually featured Lonely Planet previously in an NFT roundup. Then, we featured its NFT art exhibition at GMBB, which lasted until April 22.
However, that’s not the end of Lonely Planet’s activities. The team hopes to bring the exhibition all over Malaysia and perhaps even beyond.
According to Shaw Ming, the second exhibition will take place in Toppen Shopping Centre, Johor from July 9 to September 19. With these exhibitions, Lonely Planet will be able to reach a wider audience.
“Although it feels very cheeky to say this, we hope that we can attract well-known collectors to collect our works so that other collectors can pay attention to our works,” Shaw Ming said.
It’s not just about the attention though. Instead, attention is the first step to securing a better future for the children. As Shaw Ming puts it, the goal for Lonely Planet is rather simple. It’s to enable children to earn money and support themselves.
Lonely Planet has also launched its online store, which goes beyond NFTs to sell merchandise.
“NFTs are high-priced commodities that not everyone can afford to buy,” Shaw Ming reasoned. “So, we set up mylonelyplanet.com to sell products that everyone can buy.”
The store currently sells t-shirts, jigsaw puzzles, and rolled canvases with the children’s artwork on them. It’s a way for those who still aren’t familiar with the metaverse to appreciate the artwork.
Shaw Ming concluded, “In the long run, I think the potential of this online store is actually higher than that of NFTs.”
Featured Image Credit: Zenshin Agency / Lonely Planet / Art Gene Studio