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by Joe Gisondi
This post first appeared on https://www.voice.com/post/@notthatjoe/women-of-crypto-art-1616698747-2108839648.
an, gracefully, without saying no, quickly turned the focus to the art collective Women of Crypto Art (WOCA).
an doesn’t know me well enough to know that I am not shy and gladly introduce myself to strangers all the time. Which is how I found myself in the WOCA discord pinging everyone to get in touch with someone that goes by the twitter handle @bitcoinmadame.
A Rose By Any Other Name
This is how I met Etta Tottie.
With a name like Etta Tottie she was almost predestined to be an art collector. What other options do you have? Equestrian? Thespian? Debutante? Jazz vocalist? Protagonist of a Jane Austen novel?
If my daughter decides to have children I will suggest the name Etta for a girl.
The prestige of her name does not match the humility of her character.
From everything I heard from other artists and contacts there were two people to talk to about WOCA and Etta was one of them. That’s not how she sees it though.
Etta is quick to pass the recognition to the other co-founder and downplay her impact and role in the community. To her, WOCA is an idea and a community; she merely organizes and welcomes people into the growing family.
When asked about how she helped found WOCA she quickly says, “Oh well it was Sparrow’s idea. How I got involved was by accident. I’m not even an artist.”
Etta was put in the original group message on Twitter because someone thought she was an artist. She was afraid she would be found out and asked to leave; so she kept quiet but listened, offered guidance, and help when it was needed.
When the max number of participants was reached on the group chat they decided to start a discord channel and begin WOCA. It was then that Etta felt the need to confess to an artist she trusted, Angie Taylor.
“Angie, I’m not an artist and the last thing I painted was my shed.”
“Well, you can paint my shed any time.”
This interaction is par for the course for WOCA. What began as a community of women to support each other by promoting each other’s work has become a community that accepts anyone who is willing to support them.
Including me, a male.
I admit I feel like an intruder in that community. It’s a space that is meant to feel safe and welcoming for women and allow them the freedom to express themselves while also encouraging each other and to help guide newcomers to the crypto art world.
It doesn’t matter how much I champion their causes, encourage female artists within the community or out, I will always feel like a voyeur.
But every time I think it’s time for me to fade away into the night, Etta is there saying thank you as if I did something important.
Etta does not see herself as a creative in the sense of artistic skill. Her talent lies in seeing a need in this community and meeting that need. She appreciates art, loves art and lives for art. She became a NFT collector because she ran out of room for the physical walls in her house. Now, she is the matriarch of a growing community where she welcomes people with open arms.
Malcolm Gladwell describes in his book The Tipping Point three types of people needed in the beginning of a movement for something to go viral: Connectors, Mavens and Salesperson (he uses the term “salesman” but that didn’t feel right to use here).
Etta manages to play all three roles with her ability to network and connect artists with the right people (Connector), wealth of knowledge in the art realm and necessary organization to ensure WOCA grows (Maven) and her natural ability to uplift and showcase others talent (Salesperson).
Etta’s creative skills are her interpersonal skills. Her networking and relationships will help grow WOCA into an art movement that will be written about and taught in future art classes partly due to the role Etta has played in bringing attention to the multitude of projects these women are working on.
Her importance to this community, to all women in and out, or to the art world in general is apparent, but she is quick to point to someone else, “Well, this was all Sparrow’s idea.”
A Not So Little Bird
If ever I needed another woman’s validation, other than my wife’s, it would be Sparrow’s.
Her kindness knows no bounds.
To have her support means you already made it because whatever you want to accomplish, she will make sure it happens.
Etta isn’t the only one who gives Sparrow the credit for WOCA, everyone in the group sings her praise. With her schedule packed, I planned an hour phone call with her a week in advance.
When we finally spoke she seemed distracted and quickly went into the problems around NFTs (carbon emissions and ownership) and an art project she has been a part of since its inception, dada.art. She begins talking about the projects she’s been working on: Venus of Metaverse and The Graffiti Queens.
Her involvement in so many projects sounds exhausting both mentally and physically but her mental stamina and resolve seem undaunted by these tasks. Her spare time is clearly precious which just further showcases her endless willingness to give to others.
Sparrow is a software engineer with an amazing artistic gift. NFTs could have been created specifically for her. She quickly began throwing phrases around that I knew were words that related to things in technology and art. Even with her speaking slowly and calmly I could barely keep up.
Her inviting nature and encouragement make me think she is rooting for me to succeed too.
Her intelligence, passion and talent are all reflected in her art as well.
Sparrow’s art has a dark dignity. She has a number of pieces displaying what looks like an abstract sewing mannequin being fitted by a seamstress. The figures appear feminine but the faces obscured, blurred or replaced by other images.
These were all a series of works using Generative Adversarial Network (GAN), which blurs the line between creator and machine enough where I can ask, is the GAN interpreting what Sparrow sees and feels or is Sparrow teaching GAN how the real world views women?
These altered faces draped in beautiful garments could represent Sparrow’s role in the art community and in society as well. Her protective nature and desire to preserve the beauty in women, and really anyone, facing rejection, neglect, shame or self-hate. In her eyes, all deserve appreciation, admiration and love.
Sparrow manages to express this in the digital world through her art but also in the community she has built from her imagination.
An Open Gated Community
When I spoke with Sparrow our conversation revolved around one idea: community. This idea drives the growth of WOCA. This idea transforms creates physical space where you will find people like you.
And Etta and Sparrow are twin statues at the gate with plaques that read:
Give me your tired, your weak, your hungry, your battered, your bruised, your emotionally neglected, your heart broken, your insecure, your lost, your drifters, your burnouts, your scarred, your tattered, your discarded, your forgotten, your neglected, your bleeding-hearts, your free spirits, your wanders, your eclectic, your dancers, your singers, your creators, your artists, your writers, your sculptors, your painters, your graphic designers, your advocates, your activists.
And if you are not one of these, come anyway; all are welcome.
Here you’ll have a home. Here you’ll feel welcome. Here you’ll feel love.
Look for the NFT episode on the Cryptowriter Podcast where I talk to the incredible Etta Tottie.
Note: If you plan on reading and listening to every one of these stories, thank you. Not for me, for them. They deserve to be seen and heard because what they’re doing matters. They deserve to be in the book of human history so generations from now people know how we got there.
Next Up from my series on Women of Crypto Art: Jennifer Stelco
This post is published for Cryptowriter in association with Voice.