Pin It
Frida: Viva La Vida still
Frida: Viva La Vida still

Why this businessman set fire to Frida Kahlo’s ‘$10m’ art

Martin Mobarak tells Dazed that it’s what the artist ‘would have wanted’ – but he may be under investigation for crimes against Mexico’s heritage

In Mexico, the artworks of Frida Kahlo are considered national treasures. In other words, it’s not a good idea to take them out into the back garden and set them on fire to entertain your party guests. Earlier this year, however, Martin Mobarak put this to the test. During a gathering at his Miami mansion, the Mexican entrepreneur filmed himself torching one of Kahlo’s drawings – allegedly worth $10 million – in a martini glass while a mariachi band provided the soundtrack. He then posted it on YouTube for the world to witness, in a video inexplicably titled Frida Kahlo: The Life of an Icon.

Now, it’s reported that Mobarak is being investigated by the country’s leading cultural authority, Mexico’s National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature, for burning Fantasmones Siniestros. If the drawing is found to be authentic he may be found guilty of committing federal crimes. In Mexico,” the organisation explains, “the deliberate destruction of an artistic monument constitutes a crime in terms of the federal law on archaeological, artistic and historical monuments and zones.”

Speaking to Dazed, Mobarak says that he has “no knowledge” of such an investigation, and denies that destroying Frida Kahlo’s artwork counts as a federal crime anyway. In fact, he denies that he ‘destroyed’ the artwork in the first place, despite the plain evidence on his YouTube channel. By burning the drawing, he’s actually “immortalised it”, he claims, in a process that also involves – surprise, surprise – minting an NFT copy.

Despite the fact that Mobarak’s ownership of the genuine Fantasmones Siniestros is still up for debate (he claims to have purchased it from a private collector back in 2015), 10,000 “ultra-high-definition digital copies” will be made available for sale at 3 ETH each following the burning. In total, this currently translates to just over £36 million, if all of the NFTs are successfully sold.

“I don’t need the money generated by this,” Mobarak says. Instead, the proceeds from the sale of all the NFTs will apparently go toward charities “near and dear” to his heart, as listed on the project’s website.

Mobarak’s commitment to philanthropy hasn’t done much to reassure his critics, however. Did he really need to burn the work of a seminal surrealist, just to “immortalise [her] in NFT form” and raise some money for charity? Why not just sell the drawing itself, if it’s really worth $10 million? Or simply mint the NFTs without permanently destroying the physical artwork? “If I don’t scream, people won’t listen,” Mobarak says. Besides, he claims, it’s… what Frida Kahlo would have wanted.

“As much as I am a fan of Frida’s work, I know the pain she went through,” the businessman says. “She was a socialist. She did not care about the money at all. She just wanted to help others. Frida herself would have wanted to do this if she knew it yielded help and radical change.”

Listen, I apologise if I offended anyone,” he adds, responding more directly to the backlash (though he stops short of apologising for the actual burning). “They don’t know what it is to be in my mind and situation. They don’t know what motivated me to do this.... I understand the outrage, but I also understand [the] metaverse world.” Apparently, the metaverse will secure the existence of Fantasmones Siniestros for eternity, as opposed to locking the drawing away to deteriorate inside a safe: “It was eventually going to die anyway in this physical world.”

This is putting a lot of faith in the future of NFTs – a technology that has, so far, proven to be rife with scandals, theft, and broken promises. That being said, Mobarak isn’t the only collector putting all of his eggs in the metaverse basket. Last year, a group of blockchain enthusiasts similarly reduced a $95,000 Banksy to ashes in a ritualistic minting ceremony. This year, Damien Hirst also burned 4,851 of his own polka dot artworks in a “social experiment” that saw buyers trade them in for digital tokens.

Who needs physical art anyway? “Metaverse is the future,” says Mobarak. But maybe we could stop setting fire to seminal artworks, just in case he’s wrong?