Model Emily Ratajkowski reclaims her image by auctioning NFT of herself

Emily Ratajkowski, a model and writer, is minting a nonfungible token, or NFT, which will be auctioned at Christie’s on May 14. PHOTO: EMRATA/INSTAGRAM

NEW YORK - In an effort to reestablish "authority" over the usage of her likeness, model and writer Emily Ratajkowski is minting a non-fungible token, or NFT, which will be auctioned at Christie's on May 14.

The piece will be titled Buying Myself Back: A Model For Redistribution. As Ratajkowski chronicled in a widely read essay published in The Cut last year, she had been surprised to find out in 2014 that a nude photograph of her was hanging in the Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue.

As part of his New Portraits series, artist Richard Prince had taken one of her Instagram photos and printed it on a large canvas, priced at US$90,000 (S$119,500). Ratajkowski tried to buy the piece, but a Gagosian employee bought it for himself.

After contacting Prince's studio directly, though, she was able to obtain a second "Instagram painting" of herself, featuring a photo from her first appearance in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue.

The image attached to the NFT is a digital composite showing Ratajkowski, photographed in her New York apartment, posing in front of the Prince painting that hangs in her Los Angeles home.

A non-fungible token is the metadata associated with the image file, allowing the file to be bought or sold like a physical piece of art.

Ratajkowski, who is married to actor-producer Sebastian BearMcClard and gave birth to their son last month, is using the platform OpenSea to add her NFT to the Ethereum blockchain, but her NFT will be for sale in US dollars.

Ratajkowski said that after artist Beeple's US$69.3 million NFT sale at Christie's in March, brands and cryptocurrency brokers contacted her directly, offering her 20 to 60 per cent of profits for an NFT featuring her likeness.

"I had this bad feeling in my stomach about that way of approaching it," she said. She decided to develop her own project, following another prominent model, Kate Moss.

Because an NFT is less about the image itself and more the concept of ownership over a digital file, Ratajkowski realised the medium could be an effective way to make a statement about ownership - by appropriating Prince's appropriation of her photo.

"As somebody who has built a career off of sharing my image, so many times - even though that's my livelihood - it's taken from me and then somebody else profits off of it," she said.

Every time her NFT is resold, she will receive an undisclosed cut.

To her, there is another potential dividend: moral justice. Across fashion, film and the art world, she added, young women are made to "feel like they don't need to be paid properly".

She said cryptocurrency experts warned her: "People are going to use your image in NFTs in one way or another, so you might as well make one."

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