Dubai-Based Artist Idriss B on Hackers, NFTs, and Baloo the Bear | Savoir Flair
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Dubai-Based Artist Idriss B on Hackers, NFTs, and Baloo the Bear
article @IDRISSBCOM
by Lydia Medeiros 7-minute read July 14, 2023

Idriss B reveals how he got hackers to work for him.

article @IDRISSBCOM

Chances are if you live in Dubai – or have visited Dubai – you’ve seen, admired, photographed, or at least noticed an assortment of geometrical sculptures leisurely lounging on a lawn, considering a dive into a luxury pool, or standing guard in various corners of the shining emirate. They’re typically animals and are usually painted in a bright, glossy color, but they’re always sporting playful movement no matter what angle you observe them from. More often than not they are large – sometimes larger than life – but each sculpture is unmistakably by the same artist.

At least that is how we felt as we first began following the trail of cheeky sculptures around the city. It seemed everywhere we went, a shiny, new character emerged to point us in a different direction as we chased the enigmatic artist who had seemingly overnight turned our city into his very own gallery.

It wasn’t until a chance meeting at Jumeirah Al Naseem for an afternoon tea that we finally met the elusive artist we’d been trailing around the city. We invited French Tunisian artist, Idriss B, to our office for an exclusive interview about art, hackers, NFTs, and international success.

As a child, Idriss dreamed of becoming a Disney artist or an architect, however, his foray into the art world started with window displays for major luxury brands in China, which developed into a successful 15-year career. Even so, in his spare time, the elite window designer was creating small sculptures of polygonal animals reminiscent of his favorite childhood characters.

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“My wife never really cared about what I was doing, even though I was making crazy windows for Louis Vuitton. One day, I came back with one of the pieces I had designed – a gorilla – and she was like, ‘Wow! That’s nice!’ I was like ‘Wait. What?’ So I thought, okay, if I can touch her with this, that means maybe other people will feel the same way. So I started showing my friends and parents, and everybody loved it. They asked, ‘For which client?’ And I said, ‘No, it’s not for a client. It’s for me.’ And they said, ‘You should sell it.’ And that is how I started.”

Idriss and his wife and children moved to Dubai from China in 2018. His plan was to create his sculptures in his art studio in Tunisia but eventually set up shop in Dubai, all while continuing to design window displays. One day while walking around The Pointe on Palm Jumeirah, he noticed that although beautiful, it was missing something – namely a large Idriss B sculpture. He went to the information desk and informed them he was an artist and asked if he could talk to someone about his artwork. The next day he received a phone call and his first commission in Dubai: the six meter Osi the Falcon.

He began receiving commissions to bring more of his works to places like Gate Avenue in DIFC and Dubai Design District, and pretty soon, Dubai began to transform into his very own public exhibition. Everyone wanted an original Idriss B sculpture or installation, from Jumeirah Naseem‘s vegan afternoon tea to five-star resorts like the Four Seasons and Address Hotels, as well as international art shows.

In a relatively short amount of time, Idriss’ sculptures had gone viral. Nine of his unique, polygonal creations – including a brand new, 19-meter dinosaur named Rexor the T-Rex – graced the malls of Park Avenue in New York City between 34th and 38th Streets. With each new city that welcomed his work, the clever artist introduced a new sculpture to his collection (like Osi for Dubai and Rexor for NYC), giving each one a playful name that resonated with young and old across the world.

While Rexor the T-Rex chased people down Park Avenue, Baloo the Bear (a nod to Disney’s The Jungle Book) could be seen lounging on the sand, grass, or turned into chocolate in Dubai. Dundee the Crocodile was contemplating a swim in Miami, while Diego the Sabertooth Tiger stalked alongside his buddy Manny the Wooly Mammoth. Mojo the Gorilla stood proud in his new supersized iteration in a friendly challenge to Coba from Planet of the Apes.

I'm used to being in the shadows. My sculptures can be in the LIGHT, but I’d rather stay in the shadows.

article @IDRISSBCOM

The artist also received commissions from the food industry, like the champagne-holding octopus for Michelin-starred Ossiano, a 3.5-meter-tall CZN Burak, and salt and pepper shakers modeled after Nusret Gökçe (a.k.a. Salt Bae). His window designing career began to take a backseat to his side hustle, and it wasn’t long before the artist began to venture into the brave new world of NFTs.

Because of the nature of Idriss’ work, he could easily customize his sculptures to fit anyone’s taste in color, size, animal, finish, etc., meaning that each physical or digital piece of art purchased was (most likely) a one-of-a-kind.

“I wanted people to have a unique piece that is also very specific to them. Even though it’s still my sculpture, it’s theirs, you know?” Idriss explained. “I always say, if you have exactly the same one as someone else, then they are your soulmate because the chances of that happening are one in 2.6 million.”

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It was a natural progression from 3D renderings to NFTs. However, the first minting purchases hit a rocky start when he was hacked and scammed by people he’d thought were safe.

“I wanted to do things a little bit differently. So what I did was I proposed three different things. First, of course, the buyer would get an NFT, but on top of that, they would also receive a physical sculpture. So everybody minting also had the possibility of receiving a [physical] sculpture delivered to their place. The more NFTs you buy, the bigger the sculpture is. It’s cool to have digital art, but having something physical is really cool,” the artist explained. “But I also wanted to do private concerts. I don’t know why, but at that time, I did. I wanted my NFTs to build a community.”

I wanted people to have a UNIQUE piece that is also very SPECIFIC to them. Even though it’s still my sculpture, it’s THEIRS, you know?

article @IDRISSBCOM

Idriss organized a private concert in New York City for all his NFT buyers featuring artists such as Ja Rule, Tyga, and Busta Rhymes. This caused his first drop to garner huge amounts of attention and excitement, which unfortunately alerted the hackers, pirates, and scammers to what he was doing.

In the beginning, everything started smoothly. He’d alerted his buyers that he would wait for the gas prices to go down, and when they did, it was a minting frenzy with 200 NFTs sold in the first minute. Then everything ground to a sudden halt. While his team looked into it, he began to receive odd emails from people on his white list that they received the new link and had purchased the artwork.

“Some people lost $10,000 and others had their whole wallet transferred,” said Idriss. “What happened was that some guys within our own community that were there for a month talking to others and were even on our white list, they scammed everybody else. They shut down the site, then sent a link saying: ‘This is a special link I received from the top management.’ They copied our website with one difference in like a dot and nobody noticed because the hype is so big and everyone is just excited to mint.”

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“Then, we had an attack from an Israeli team. They sent me a message saying “In 10 seconds, we are going to shut down your website if you don’t give us 10 Etherna.” That was $30,000. I was like, well, no. Then, 10 seconds later, the website was shut down.”

The hackers also shut down his personal and business Instagram accounts on the same day they shut down his NFT Polyverse website. In the end, Idriss paid the hackers what they asked for to get his website up and running again, and had to wait three weeks to regain control of his own social media. “At the time I did not have the blue check,” Idriss explained (it is harder for a hacker to claim an account is theirs if it has already been certified by Meta).

But Idriss wasn’t about to waste $30,000 to pay off a few hackers, so he decided to turn the whole frustrating ordeal to his advantage by requiring his hackers to create a security system for his website. In other words, he paid the hackers off, but demanded they fix his security so it couldn’t happen to him again.

Idriss still sells his NFTs on his Polyverse website (taking his time and not rushing), and his artworks keep popping up in places unexpected from Art Miami, to the Hamptons, and beyond.

“Honestly, the amount of hack and hate tired me out. I was happy living my life, people were enjoying my art, taking pictures of it, and I had collectors, and that’s it. But, [the NFT realm] gave [me] a little bit too much recognition. I mean, it was amazing. The concert in New York was really amazing. It was an experience that was great, but I’m used to being in the shadows. My sculptures can be in the light, but I’d rather stay in the shadows.”

As to what the artist has up his sleeve next? He mentioned something about a giant lion to rival Rexor perhaps installed in front of the Colosseum in Rome. His name? Simba.

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