A Businessman’s Controversial Connection to Frida Kahlo

BY: 
Catherine A. Jones
 | May 3, 2024

A Wealthy Mexican Businessman, Martin Mobarak, recently made headlines for doing the unthinkable to a rare piece of art. According to him, his actions were in the name of technology and for a good cause. Yet these days, few people believe him. Instead, Mobarek is widely known as the businessman with a controversial connection to Frida Kahlo.

Who is Martin Mobarak?

Growing up in Mexico City, Mobarak says he developed an early fascination with art, particularly the works of Frida Kahlo. His appreciation for Kahlo’s paintings and the cultural impact she had on Mexican history stayed with him as he matured. As an entrepreneur and visionary, Mobarak sought to immortalize Kahlo’s legacy through innovative means, namely NFT, aka non fungible tokens. And, in 2022, he founded FRIDA.NFT.

His goal for Frida.NFT, according to his LinkedIn profile, reads: “Mr. Mobarak’s vision is to introduce Frida’s work into the metaverse and leverage her powerful likeness to bring together a community of collectors, creators, and art lovers on a mission to merge the traditional art world with the expanding potential of the digital worlds in art and immortalize humanities story.”

He met his goal at least for one night in his new hometown of Miami. Then everything changed.

The Businessman’s Controversial Connection

In July, during a party at a Miami mansion, Mobarak made a bold announcement to his guests. Clad in a sequined blazer adorned with Frida Kahlo’s face, he held up what he claimed was a drawing from one of Kahlo’s diaries.

The piece he held was allegedly the original Fantasmones Siniestros, a $10 million 9-by-6-inch “drawing in watercolor, crayon pencil, pen and sepia ink” from Kahlo’s diary back in 1944.

“What we’re going to do today here,” he informed his guests, the Smithsonian magazine writes,  “it’s going to change the lives of thousands of children, and I hope that everyone that is here can understand it.”

The Infamous Stunt

Mobarak proceeded to remove the drawing from its frame, placing it in a martini glass filled with bright blue rubbing alcohol. As the flames consumed the paper, an image of the artwork emerged digitally on a screen behind him.

“Attendees at the opulent July gathering, which was captured in a promotional video, had been notified that the drawing was being ‘transformed to live eternally in the digital realm’ through the creation of nonfungible tokens that represented the ‘rebirth & immortality of a timeless piece,’” the New York Times writes.

His company, Frida.NFT, announced that they would be selling 10,000 non-fungible tokens (NFTs) of this image, which they claimed had been “permanently transitioned into the Metaverse.”

All proceeds from these NFT sales were intended to support “unfortunate children, battered women, and other less fortunate individuals worldwide.”

Legal Implications

Mobarak’s stunt did not go unnoticed. In September 2022, Mexico’s National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature (INBAL) launched an investigation into the authenticity of the burned drawing. 

If it indeed turned out to be an authentic Frida Kahlo piece, Mobarak would have committed a federal crime under Mexican law. 

“Mexico’s federal legislation on archaeological, artistic, and historical monuments and zones specifies that it is a felony to damage a piece of art on purpose,” Artmajeur explains.

In fact, Kahlo’s entire body of work is protected by the Mexican government, and deliberately destroying any of it is considered a serious offense.

On the other hand, if the drawing was a reproduction, Mobarak could face charges related to fraud or copyright infringement. Lawyer Leila Amineddoleh, who specializes in art and cultural heritage law, told the New York Times that Mobarak’s actions could have legal consequences regardless of whether the original was genuine or not.

Kahlo’s Hypothetical Approval

In defense of his controversial act, Mobarak speculated that Frida Kahlo herself would approve. 

He suggested that Kahlo would endorse burning a small piece of her diary for charity. 

“If Frida Kahlo were alive today,” he said in an interview, “I would bet my life that if I asked to burn a small piece of her diary to bring some smiles and better quality of life to children, then she would say: ‘Go ahead and do it. I’ll light the fire.’”

What about the money he raised from the sales of Fantasmones Siniestros NFTs? To date, only four of the 10,000 NFTs were sold, for $11,000 each. And charities in Mexico have said they have received nothing from the multi-millionaire.

Current Status

As of now, Mobarak is still being investigated.

“The whole thing is creepy,” Mary-Anne Martin, a Latin American art dealer, who sold Fantasmones Siniestros twice, told the outlet Vice

Across social media, many still wonder whether Mobarak acted out of genuine altruism or self-interest. Regardless, his name will forever be associated with the destruction of a Kahlo masterpiece (even though there are no records that he ever even owned it).

Only time will reveal the true impact of his controversial NFT stunt. As for his current whereabouts, Mobarak’s fate hangs in the balance as the investigation continues.

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