Martin Mobarak: NFT mogul may face charges after burning $10M Frida Kahlo sketch in publicity stunt

Martin Mobarak, 57, set fire to the 1944 sketch by Frida Kahlo titled 'Fantasmones Siniestros' so it would be 'transformed to live eternally in the digital realm'

Martin Mobarak: NFT mogul may face charges after burning $10M Frida Kahlo sketch in publicity stunt
Martin Mobarak set ablaze a $10 million Frida Kahlo artwork in a stunt to sell NFTs of the artwork (Instagram/@frida.nft)
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MIAMI, FLORIDA: An NFT entrepreneur is reportedly facing possible criminal charges after he set ablaze a $10 million Frida Kahlo artwork as part of a viral stunt to sell NFTs. The 57-year-old Martin Mobarak, a Mexican-Lebanese businessman, set fire to the 1944 watercolor, crayon, pencil, and ink sketch titled  'Fantasmones Siniestros', or 'Massive Sinister Ghosts', in July so it would be "transformed to live eternally in the digital realm."

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The Miami-based entrepreneur, who reportedly made his fortune in the Dot Com boom of the early '90s, threw a party at his home to celebrate the launch of the 'Frida.NFT'. As models walked down a makeshift poolside catwalk, Mobarak, flanked by armed security guards and wearing a blazer with Kahlo's face in sequins, removed the artwork from a gold frame. He subsequently placed it on top of a martini glass and set it ablaze.

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Speaking to The New York Times on Tuesday, November 8, Mobarak said he "had to do something drastic to get attention." According to the newspaper, he planned on selling 10,000 NFTs for $4,000 each but only four have been sold thus far and for less than $11,200. The businessman, however, was not discouraged. "Like a Phoenix rising from its ashes, this collection of 10,000 NFTs represents the rebirth & immortality of a timeless piece," he declared.

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On the other hand, art experts and the Mexican government aren't impressed by his stunt. Mexican heritage officials announced on September 26 that a criminal investigation had been launched to look into Mobarak's actions, which could possibly land him in jail for nearly a decade as well as attract a fine equivalent to the artwork's value. Mexico's National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature (INBAL) is reportedly determining whether he committed a federal offense by destroying an original Kahlo piece or if he merely burned a fake art piece, passing it off as 'real' to create an impact. 

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That being said, burning a fake could also spell trouble for the entrepreneur, considering he has been selling NFTs of the artwork insisting it was genuine.  "If he did actually burn it, he is breaking one law," Leila Amineddoleh, a lawyer who specializes in art and cultural heritage law, told the Times. "And if he didn't, if it was a reproduction, then he might have violated copyright law. And if he copied the original with an intent to deceive, it could be fraud." Meanwhile, Gregorio Luke, a former Mexican diplomat and a previous director of the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, California, told the newspaper, "I think this man should be put in jail."

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The original sketch was reportedly sold in 2004 by the renowned Latin American art dealer Mary-Anne Martin to a foundation. In 2013, it was purchased by a private collector. In a conversation with The Miami Herald, Mobarak claimed to have bought the artwork from a private collector in 2015 and maintains that the one he burnt was real. He said a portion of the proceeds from NFT sales would go to charity. "If Frida Kahlo were alive today, 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,''' Mobarak told the outlet.

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It's worth noting that Kahlo's artworks are considered to be national treasures, with the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura (INBAL) officially designating Kahlo's body of work as an 'artistic monument' in 1984. "In Mexico, the deliberate destruction of an artistic monument constitutes a crime in terms of the federal law on archaeological, artistic and historical monuments and zones," INBAL said in a statement.

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Mobarak's stunt was also condemned by the Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacan, a suburb of Mexico City. The organization said they owned the rights to all works by Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera, and hadn't granted permission for NFTs to be produced. "[The museum] disagrees with any intention of support to the museum generated from the alleged destruction of the cultural heritage of our country, as well as the existence of any ties with the collector and his activities," the museum said in a statement. Kahlo died in 1954 at age 47.

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Married Mexican painters Frida Kahlo (1907 - 1954) and Diego Rivera (1886 - 1957) stand together with a pet dog in front of thatchted-roof hut which houses a number of archeological artifacts, Mexico City, Mexico, 1940s. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Married Mexican painters Frida Kahlo (1907 - 1954) and Diego Rivera (1886 - 1957) stand together with a pet dog in front of a thatched-roof hut that houses a number of archeological artifacts, in Mexico City, Mexico, in the 1940s. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

When asked whether burning the piece of history was a mistake, Mobarak told the Times, "I like to say that I don't regret it."

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