By Andrius Sytas
VILNIUS, April 29 (Reuters) - A Lithuanian artist has raised over $6,000 for LGBT groups by selling a digital collage of homophobic messages that were sent to a member of parliament who champions gay rights causes.
The black-and-white artwork by Erikas Malisauskas, titled "Hate Speech Cloud", consists of 400 offensive messages bundled together in the stylised shape of a cloud.
"My goal was to monetise the hate speech," said Malisauskas. "Now everyone who wrote the hateful messages to LGBT people has contributed money towards LGBT causes."
The messages were originally addressed to Tomas Raskevicius, a well-known figure in Lithuania where he is the first gay rights activist to be elected to parliament.
Malisauskas, who is not gay, said he was shocked by the extreme levels of abuse hurled at Raskevicius and the LGBT community in general.
Among the messages included in the artwork, which are in Lithuanian, are many that used a term of abuse that would translate into the English slur "faggot".
"You are destroying Lithuania and you should be ashamed," says one of the messages.
"Pervert, stop showing yourself to normal Lithuanian people!" says another.
Raskevicius says that on an average day, he gets a few messages like that on social media. But on days when he speaks publicly in support of policies such as introducing same-sex partnerships or ratifying an international treaty against domestic abuse, the number of hateful messages spikes.
He says he usually forwards any threats of physical violence to the police, and posts other messages on his social media feeds to stimulate debate.
"There is no way to tackle the negativity when it's underground. When it's out in the open, we can actually deal with it," he said.
"On the human level, the negativity impacts both mental and emotional health, for sure. One of the coping strategies I employ is to make these messages public, for other people to discuss and express their opinion."
The police have initiated more than 20 criminal investigations into threats sent to Raskevicius.
Malisauskas said the reason why he arranged the messages in the form of a cloud was "because clouds fade away".
He sold the artwork in the form of a non-fungible token or NFT, a type of digital asset verified using blockchain technology. NFTs are increasingly popular in the art world because they allow a file to be permanently authenticated, regardless of copies and downloads.
The sale of "Hate Speech Cloud" was the first of a Lithuanian artwork in the form of an NFT to be publicly announced.
The person who bought the NFT wished to remain anonymous. An image of the artwork can be seen at https://www.neapykantosdebesis.lt/.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius, editing by Estelle Shirbon)