Artist John Walter’s debut NFT assortment tackles HIV stigma

London-based artist John Walter has released his first NFT collection titled Sydney Ducks, in collaboration with HIV charity Positive East. Named for a group of Australian ex-convicts who set fire to buildings in San Francisco during the gold rush, the series continues Walter’s commitment to tackling HIV stigma and virology disinformation through art.

Sydney Ducks uses cartooning to further the dialogue on sexual health, relationships and technology, depicting a dystopian parallel reality in which a pandemic has forced mass migration from Australia to the USA. The titular Ducks are an Australian gang within this reality. A debut set of 30 NFTs will been released from the series this month, with more planned for later this year to coincide with World AIDS Day on December 1.

Imagery from the debut Genesis collection

“It felt like the right time to make a new kind of experiment for myself; something purely from my imagination, and the world of NFTs would give it a home,” Walter tells CR. “NFTs encapsulate several aspects of my practice and hold them together in a new, more prescient way; working digitally, working serially (think the tarot sets but on an even larger numerical scale), and world-building.”

Walter describes most of the art world NFTs as “boring” and an “attempt to repeat a formula from the analogue market”, saying that work done outside this official sanctioned market is often more interesting. “So NFTs are disruptive because they are popular, cartoony, and don’t require a long text on the wall of a gallery to enjoy,” adds the artist. “This appeals to me – the access to regular people.”

Access is key for a project like Sydney Ducks, which has health education at its core. Reaching new audiences in new ways is a crucial part of creating work that can make a difference. For Walter, working in these settings is one of the main driving forces behind his practice.

He says: “I enjoy working with scientists and health professionals and I embrace the opportunity to build allegiances for my memeplexes to exist amidst the interest of others; this makes both of our outputs stickier, and as a result the science and the art working together can co-infect more brains.”