The drinks were flowing. The mariachi band was playing. The crowd was cheering. A $10 million Frida Kahlo drawing was burning.
This was the scene at a July 30 private event at a Miami mansion hosted by Martin Mobarak, a Mexican art collector and crypto businessman who has lived in South Florida for 20 years. Mobarak, who is seen on video wearing a blazer with a bedazzled portrait of Kahlo on his back, claims he burned the original artwork to launch Frida.NFT, a collection of NFTs to benefit children’s healthcare charities and other groups. Now, Mexico’s leading cultural authority says he may have committed a crime.
“What we are going to do today is going to change the lives of thousands of children,” Mobarak said in the video produced by Frida.NFT. “I hope everyone that’s here can understand it.”
But art enthusiasts and experts in Mexico and abroad did not understand. In the months following the party, images of the burning artwork sparked outrage as they circulated online, according to Mexico Daily Post.
The video reached Mexico’s National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature (INBAL), which announced Sept. 26 that it is investigating whether Mobarak committed a federal crime by destroying an original Kahlo artwork or if he actually burned a fake. Artworks by Kahlo, the famed Mexican painter who died in 1954, are considered to be national treasures.
INBAL officially designated 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.
The Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacan also released a statement denouncing Mobarak’s actions and raising potential legal concerns. In the statement, the museum noted that artist Diego Rivera, Kahlo’s husband, established an irrevocable trust to operate the museum and own all of his and Kahlo’s works. The trust did not authorize or license the reproduction of Kahlo’s work as an NFT, the statement said.
“[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 its statement.
Mobarak said he owned and burned “Fantasmones Siniestros,” a surreal 9-inch-by-6-inch ink and watercolor drawing Kahlo drew in her diary in 1944. The work is a whimsical mish-mash of a monstrous creature with a fish, broom, birds and the phrase “Here are the sinister ghosts.”
Mary-Anne Martin, a renowned Latin American art dealer, told Vice World News that she sold the drawing twice, once in 2004 to a foundation and again in 2013 to a private collector. She told the publication that she did not sell it to Mobarak and had never heard of him until recently. “The whole thing is creepy,” Martin told Vice.
Mobarak told the Herald he bought the drawing from a private collector in 2015.
During the eccentric party, complete with a DJ, a fashion show and a performer dancing with flaming batons, Mobarak unveiled the framed drawing from a protective bag in front of a crowd. He then unscrewed the frame, removed the colorful paper drawing and placed it in a large martini glass.
As he lit the drawing on fire, the mariachi band played the classic Mexican song “Cielito Lindo.”
The audience in the video cheered, though the audience online was less than impressed. One person commented on the YouTube video, “Art is subjective, but this? This is worthless, I hope some hacker steals it.”
It is not necessary to destroy an original, physical artwork to create an NFT. Still, Mobarak told the Herald that he has his reasons.
Mobarak grew up in Mexico near the Frida Kahlo Museum and has always been fascinated by the iconic artist. He said that he believes that “Fantasmones Siniestros” represents Kahlo’s physical and spiritual pain. By burning it, he was symbolically “liberating the pain she had,” he said.
According to the Frida.NFT website, proceeds from the NFT sales will go to several charities and arts organizations, including the Children’s Craniofacial Association, the Frida Kahlo Museum and Mexico’s Palace of Fine Arts, which INBAL runs. (In its statement, INBAL said it would not accept any donations from Mobarak. The Frida Kahlo Museum also said it has not accepted donations from him.)
Mobarak said he is particularly passionate about supporting children’s health charities. When one of his twins was born with a congenital disease, he recalled falling on hard times financially. He now wants to provide aid to families in need.
Mobarak is selling 10,000 NFTs of the drawing for 3 ETH on the Ethereum blockchain, which is about $4,000 each. The total in sales would be $40 million.
“I’m a fan of Frida. She endured a tremendous amount of physical, mental and spiritual pain,” Mobarak said. “I’m using that one small painting to create something really good that she would be happy about.”
Mobarak said he expected the backlash and criticism. Eventually, he believes, institutions like INBAL and the general public will understand “the core of what I’m doing.” By turning the burned drawing into an NFT, Mobarak said he is “preserving it in every sense of the word.”
When asked about critics who doubt he burned the real drawing, he answered with a question.
“How do they know I didn’t?”
This story was produced with financial support from The Pérez Family Foundation, in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners, as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The Miami Herald maintains full editorial control of this work.