Renowned Italian artist duo Hackatao’s artworks, be it in the traditional or crypto art space, have often highlighted some of the most pressing social issues. Unsurprisingly, their first PFP NFT collection—Queens+Kings, stood out for its gender-fluid avatars and the creative freedom it offered collectors. Today, in honour of Pride month, Hackatao has launched several initiatives to support multiple LGBTQIA+ charities.
Who is the Italian crypto artist duo Hackatao?
Hackatao, an Italian artist couple, made their debut in Milan in 2007. Their work is often described as “surrealist pop art”, frequently featuring black and white figures in a flat style. Time and again, the pieces are a commentary on social issues including humanity and the environment. Besides, the works have references to art history, symbolism, psychology, and gaming.
Later, in 2018, an article in The Sciences magazine introduced the duo to blockchain technology. Instantly fascinated, they believed that the technology, when implemented in the art world, could greatly benefit digital artists. After all, back then, the traditional art world “was not welcoming” to digital artists.
Hackatao then decided to research more about blockchain and art, when they came across curator Jason Bailey’s blog. Bailey, eventually, introduced the couple to John Crain and Jonathan Perkins of the NFT art platform, SuperRare. When SuperRare officially launched in April 2018, Hackatao dropped their first NFT, Girl Next Door, on the platform. Since then, the couple has become pioneers of crypto art and are some of the most celebrated artists in the space today.
“Even though we started with physical art, our soul was already digital,” Hackatao told NFTevening. “The art world was not as open towards digital art back then. However, with the arrival of NFTs, we could finally fully express our digital nature.”*
Building Queens+Kings NFT Collection
Hackatao created the Queens+Kings NFT collection after long discussions with their Discord community members. Already, the duo had collected a few PFP NFTs, including Avastars, one of Hackatao’s favorite projects. However, they noticed that minting PFP avatars at times wouldn’t completely meet the collectors’ expectations, as the artworks were randomised and could not be transformed.
“While there was a lot of territory to be explored in the PFP scene, there were also these limits,” Hackatao said. “For example, the collectors were not able to identify with their avatars or see themselves in them.”
“With Queens+Kings, we wanted to remove these limits and allow collectors to grow together with their avatars,” they added. “As one grows as a person, they should be able to change their avatars as well.”
Hackatao’s PFP collection embraces creative gender expression
In December 2021, Hackatao dropped the Queens+Kings NFT collection, in partnership with Sotheby’s and NFTStudios. As with most PFP projects, the artists algorithmically generated 6,900 random avatars. But that’s where the similarities end.
To explain, Queens+Kings are gender-fluid avatars made up of interchangeable traits. After minting, collectors can “hack” their avatars to disassemble and assemble the traits as they please. Occasionally, Hackatao also releases new traits that the collectors can mint and recreate their own avatar.
“This project and this possibility of exchanging different traits adhere to a very gender-fluid vision,” the artists said. “Because since the beginning, we didn’t want to do female traits and male traits. We didn’t want to create a queen and a king. We wanted to allow people to express themselves freely.”
The result? Collectors can compose and recompose their avatars, whenever they want, and however they want.
“The opportunity to go and alter the artwork is very intriguing in the sense that you also become a creator while being a collector,” they added. “Also, nowadays, in the crypto world, especially, people identify with these avatars. They become their other selves in the digital sphere—a sort of alter ego, an extension of their identity in the virtual sphere. So it was important for us that the avatars truly represent who they are.”
Hackatao x OutRight partner for Pride month celebration
In honour of this year’s Pride month, Hackatao, NFTStudios, and Sotheby’s have partnered with OutRight Action International for a bunch of initiatives. OutRight is a global LGBTIQ+ organisation that advocates for human rights and equality for LGBTIQ+ people. For a project whose core values revolve around gender fluidity and freedom of expression, partnering with the organisation was a natural next step.
“Equality and the freedom of expression should be something at the base of the society,” Hackatao said. “To fight for equal human rights—it’s not something that we can take for granted even today. So many people are attacked because of their sexual orientation and their gender identity. So [this initiative] is about raising awareness in any way that we can in the crypto space and in the art space more widely…To give more visibility, because it’s very fundamental to the LGBTQIA+ communities to claim their rights back, to claim their freedom, and to claim all of what they’ve been denied in society.”
Essentially, the Queens+Kings project has different periods in the roadmap called “hacking season”. This month, the project dedicated the hacking season to celebrate Pride, through what they call the ‘rainbow freedom hacking season’.
That said, it was important for Hackatao to ensure that this was not merely a month-long collaboration. “The idea is to continue to pay homage to this community, to continue to pay attention to this topic of freedom and identity.”
This is why Hackatao kicked off the partnership with OutRight through some Pride-inspired traits.
Hackatao’s Pride-inspired traits pay homage to LGBTQIA+ icons
Hackatao dropped Pride-inspired traits for the Queens+Kings avatars on June 14. Each Pride trait takes inspiration from queer icons, drag queens, activists, and several other iconic LGBTQIA+ figures in history.
“In each of our artworks, every single part is really full and rich of details that come from a lot of research,” Hackatao said. “That’s the approach we took with this collaboration as well. We really wanted to investigate the story behind this LGBTQIA+ movement, the community, and all the real problems and activation that there are inside this community.”
With help from OutRight and the Q+K community, Hackatao created each trait after careful research, to pay homage to the Pride icons. The results are a combination of several LGBTQIA+ social movements in history, politics, and more, together with the aesthetics of the Queens+Kings traits. This includes the Stonewall Riots, Marsha P Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Keith Haring, Freddie Mercury, John Waters and Divine, to name a few.
“There are some traits inspired by RuPaul, bringing the drag queen scene into the mainstream media,” the artists explained. “There’s one inspired by Happy Together, the Wong Kar Wai film. It’s considered “New Queer” cinema by audiences…So there’s this beautiful Tango scene in the kitchen between the two protagonists…And that trait speaks of universal love stories, of stories that transgress gender, time, space, and context.”
These traits, which cost 0.0423 ETH, are already sold out. What’s more, Hackatao donated all the proceeds from the sales directly to OutRight.
Month-long activities to celebrate pride month
Apart from the Pride traits, a part of the proceeds from the Queens+Kings secondary market sales throughout June will go to OutRight to support their cause. Additionally, Hackatao will hack their own Queens+Kings NFT with the ‘flower crown’ 1/1 trait. This trait, in particular, pays homage to Stonewall Riots and Marsha P Johnson.
This avatar will go on auction on OpenSea, with the proceeds supporting OutRight and other LGBTQIA+ charities. MetaPride Land will also display the collection across the metaverse, teaming up with Decentraland, The Sandbox, and Voxels.
Moreover, the project will host a contest for all the Queens+Kings collectors to customise their NFTs on the freedom theme. Notably, the winning avatar will become the official image for OutRight’s ‘Giving Tuesday’ campaign. The project will also exhibit the top avatars at the Decentral Art Pavillon during Art Basel Paris in October.
NFT industry needs to work on representation and inclusivity
Despite the strides the NFT industry has taken over the last year, the space is still male-dominated. As women, people of colour, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and others continue to be underrepresented, initiatives like rainbow freedom season are much-needed. Nonetheless, the industry has a long way to go.
For this, Hackatao believes that the projects and artists need to first listen to the communities and value their opinions.
“This is how we can understand, on a wider scale, what it is that the audience believes might be missing from the scene,” they added. “We should also give space on platforms for projects that are very politically and socially aware… Projects that have statements to make through creative research—whether that is conceptual, pop, or digital,—should be able to find the space to make these statements.”
*Quotes are condensed and edited for clarity.