What is art to you?

Krittika Kumari

Exploring how Marco Santini’s mural at MAP bridges art and community, and diving into his journey of creating a new art category.


If you’ve walked by the Museum of Art & Photography on Kasturba Road, Bengaluru, you’ve surely seen the sinuous black and white pattern adorning the boundary walls. Look closer and you’ll see that this isn’t just a regular mural with abstract motifs, but is instead a melange of words related to art and people’s perception of it, created by New York-based visual artist, Marco Santini. 

What does art mean to you? Vibrant, Accessible, Thoughtful, and Calming were some of the responses we got when we put out this question to our community. But what’s really special is how Santini has woven these into a beautiful, and almost rhythmic pattern on the museum’s boundary walls; in a way, cementing these into MAP’s mission as a museum working towards making art for all. For Santini, the mural was meant to bring the community together to understand what MAP is about and how the public plays a significant role in museums. When asked about the concept behind the mural, he said, “I really see myself as a mirror, as I go into different communities and try to reflect whatever I hear, see, and feel from them. For MAP too, I wanted to ask people a question, bring them into the conversation, and then paint what I heard. For this mural, I felt it was really important to ask people what art means to them. With this innovative museum coming up in the neighbourhood, it was important for me to make the public know they were a part of it and that they could understand what is happening within it.”


Marco Santini with a young fan holding his One Love sticker in front of the MAP mural.

Having studied linguistic anthropology at Brown University, USA, Santini has always been fascinated with communication: how we communicate not just through words and language, but also through our posture, bodies, interests, and other infinite number of ways we do. For him, art is one such way. Even while painting with school children, such as at the Snehadhara Foundation in Bengaluru, which is a school for children on the spectrum, he prefers to ask students what inspires them and what is important to them, rather than just painting his own vision. 

And so even before Santini arrived in Bengaluru, we had initiated the conversation by putting out the question wherever we could: within the museum’s team and their family and friends, social media platforms, and Whatsapp groups. Once Santini was painting, he continued to ask passersby. What we received was an overwhelming response of diverse opinions on what art is in the eyes of different people. But more importantly, it made us realise how much people appreciated being drawn into the making of the artwork and museum, and how imperative it is for us as a museum to continue connecting with our community on various levels as a way of ensuring that the museum is for everyone. 

Marco Santini at work, painting the mural at MAP.

Combining the words with MAP’s branding widgets, different shapes and emblems, Santini created a mural that was almost like a puzzle, where each time you look, you discover something new in the pattern. “I find this idea of spontaneity really beautiful, especially with street art. When people walk by they might at first glance assume that it’s just a black and white, abstract design, until they suddenly spot a word that pops out at them; a word that might hold a special meaning for them. They are urged to look deeper and engage with the work. And I feel that even when I’m not on the streets of Bengaluru asking people what art means to them, the mural can continue the conversation and hopefully inspire people to learn more, not only about the museum, but also about art.”

Santini’s One Love logo, featuring the word ‘Love’ in over 80 languages.

Up till now, Santini’s artistic journey has been driven by his passion to unite community and art, while making people aware of art’s transformative power. Santini started out as an artist by doing wedding paintings of couples before turning to the streets. He would pull down negative advertisements before pasting his One Love logo across New York City, in which he has painted the word ‘love’ in over 80 different languages, placing them in a way to triumph love over hate. For example, Turkish is next to Armenian, Russian is next to Ukrainian, and Arabic is next to Hebrew which is next to German. Santini was also invited to paint live at the United Nations General Assembly in 2019 for the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions where he painted words from the discussion in real time, creating a powerful and truly meaningful reflection of the assembly.

Santini’s completed live painting at the United Nations General Assembly in 2019, honouring the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions.

Back home, Santini is well known for and has been working on another interesting project for the past three years – the Signature Series. Born during Covid out of his deep dive into the lives and practices of modern masters in the West, the series is entirely unique to Santini; one that has even been described as a new art category by two specialists at the world’s largest auction house. Santini calls the new category ‘Illuminism’.  For the works in this series, Santini takes rare, signed artist books from Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichenstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat, or Georgia O’Keefe and transforms these books, cover to cover, extracting the very soul of the book, into a single visual story. 

Santini’s Illuminated artwork from 2020, created using a book signed by Roy Lichtenstein

Santini’s Illuminated artwork from 2020, created using a book signed by Georgia O’Keeffe

While these three-dimensional artworks might seem like they’re a type of collage, they are so much more than that. In Santini’s words, “With collage you can cut things out and move them around. But in my Signature series works, a majority of what you see is the page exactly where it was when the artist signed the work. I’m not moving that much around. I’m trying to keep it as authentic as possible. And that’s why I believe the works actually shine a light on the essence of the book, and on the artist and their works in a very respectful way to understand who they were and to bring their story to light.” While in Bengaluru working on the mural, Santini created one such Illuminated artwork on India’s modern master, MF Husain, as well which has now been acquired by MAP and will be on display at the museum.


Santini’s Illuminated artwork from 2022, created using a book signed by MF Husain

What again started out as a personal passion project, led to not only the artist’s first museum acquisition, but also a showcase at Art Basel Miami with MakersPlace, an NFT marketplace; a solo show in Puerto Rico at the Lighthouse NFT Gallery; and even a display at Braand Studio Gallery during Paris Blockchain Week. For Santini, this is just the beginning. Coming up are many more exciting projects, one of which is a documentary based on the artist and his creation of a whole new art category, which will follow the artist sourcing some of the books to reading through them, to making the cuts, to storing them, along with his journey to Miami and Puerto Rico in an attempt to capture the powerful relation he has with his art. 

If you haven’t already, come walk by MAP on Kasturba Road, immerse yourself in Santini’s mural, and discover what art can really mean to you! 

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