A man wearing a crown is a recurring figure in artistactivist Mark Justiniani’s works. Upon encountering this figure in many forms, even without visual details of an audience, one can interpret them performing in front of viewers. This particular painting has a figure of a man in front of an audience of famous personalities—from Picasso and Freddie Mercury to iconic movie characters like Star Wars’ Princess Leia, Star Trek’s Spock, Charlie Chaplin, and Edward Scissorhands, among others—who is about to wear a crown that seems to float above his head.
Justiniani leaves the interpretation to the viewer—whether the man is seen as merely performing or showing its power and position to the people. One gets to figure out who the featured personalities are, which is part of the mystery and fun. This painting also shows Justiniani’s distinct art style that reminds one of children’s book illustrations and his notable works that serve as socio-political commentaries.
Illustrative in nature and with strains of magical realism, Bacolod-born Justiniani’s works provoke discussions and welcome questions. His paintings and installations of the spectacular, humorous, grotesque, and magical remind viewers to enjoy the freedom to wonder and observe details deeper. Through witty, imaginative perspective and incorporating comedic and parodied elements, present-day human condition and social matters are reflected as main themes, may it be versions of reality, fascination and views on power, responses to desire, and the understanding of the self.
In 1994, Justiniani was one of the recipients of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Thirteen Artists Awards. He represented the Philippines in exhibitions, workshops, and conferences abroad, in Australia, Denmark, Japan, and the US. His work was also included in the exhibition “At Home & Abroad, 20 Contemporary Filipino Artists” at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.
In 2019, Justiniani’s installation Arkipelago graced the 58th Venice Art Biennale. The massive immersive work became a crowd favorite, placing the Philippines in the top five must-see pavilions of the said event. But before this Salingpusa member started creating mirror-based installations, he was a sociorealist painter who persevered in creating surreal images and exploring social realities from the late 1980s to early 2000s.