A frayed sheet of A4 paper bearing the lyrics to Turn Your Lights Down Low, with scribbled corrections; an old pair of football boots still muddy in the cleats; the surface of a damaged acoustic guitar, deteriorated by excessive use. Such poignant relics are rare in the first traveling exhibition devoted to Bob Marley, which relies heavily on portraits, framed gold records and staged recreations to tell his story.
Promising an immersive experience illustrating the philosophy, vision and drive that made Marley one of the most celebrated singers on the planet, the Bob Marley One Love Experience takes place in six rooms, spread over two floors of the Saatchi Gallery. from London. And the giant red, green and gold replica from the multi-platinum compilation album Legend that takes center stage in the One Love Music Room opener sets the tone. Aside from his date and place of birth displayed on a banner hanging on the wall, there is little valuable information about the man himself, although many may already know the story. There’s the award to mark his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 and a few backstage tour passes, but the most striking thing about the room is a wall portrait of Mr Brainwash that cleverly incorporates all Island Records album covers, displayed opposite replicas of the albums themselves.
The One Love Forest offers the possibility of slouching on beanbags or climbing on a swing, but we are hardly transported to the Jamaican countryside; under the hazy green lights and the chirping of birds, the smoke evokes disinfectant and artificial grass, the plastic plants reminding us that we are in Babylon and not in the idyllic hills of Nine Mile, where Marley spent his years of training.
The semi-immersive aspect continues in the Soul Shakedown Studio, where Bluetooth headphones allow us to enjoy the images of the concert on different video screens. There are never-before-seen photographs on display, including live shots from early tours, Marley flanked by Jamaican politicians Michael Manley and Edward Seaga at the One Love Peace Concert, and an alternate shot that graced the back cover of Uprising, evoking key moments in his career.
The Beautiful Life area salutes Marley’s love of football and table tennis, but there’s a free display of the family-sanctioned third Adidas Ajax shoe, ironically under the song’s quote, “Don’t win the world and lose your soul / Wisdom is better than silver and gold,” highlighting the struggles between art and commerce at the heart of Marley’s posthumous industry.
Upstairs, a long hallway littered with stage gear leads to the Concrete Jungle and Fan Art exhibit, which features other pieces by Mr Brainwash and a range of portraits by largely uncredited artists – many of them captivating. A piece made with discarded cellphone components is particularly striking; others suggest Marley as a cosmic warrior or biblical prophet. The final room pays homage to the widow Rita and the children and grandchildren who became famous artists in their own right (including Ziggy, Stephen, Julian, Damian and Skip). Then exit through the gift shop, where One Love mugs and puzzles are prominently displayed.
As the name suggests, the Bob Marley One Love experience isn’t particularly nuanced, nor does it try to be deep; it is a commercial enterprise celebrating Marley as an industry success story as much as a creative force. Nonetheless, the family format is inclusive (if not hugely informative), and whether it’s a hardcore enthusiast or a casual listener, there’s plenty to savor for an hour or two if approached with a open mind.