Bob Marley One Love Experience review – corporate exhibition can’t satisfy the soul | Bob Marley


A frayed sheet of A4 paper bearing the lyrics to Turn Your Lights Down Low, with scribbled corrections; a pair of old football boots still with mud in the cleats; the surface of a battered acoustic guitar, deteriorated through overuse. Such poignant relics are few and far between in the first touring exhibition devoted to Bob Marley, which relies largely on portraiture, framed gold discs and staged recreations to tell its tale.

Promising an immersive experience illustrating the philosophy, vision and drive that made Marley one of the most famous singers on the planet, the Bob Marley One Love Experience unfolds across six rooms, over two floors of the Saatchi Gallery, London. And the giant red, green and gold replica of the multiplatinum Legend compilation album that takes centre stage in the opening One Love Music Room sets the tone. Aside from his date and place of birth displayed on a banner on the wall, there is precious little information about the man himself, though many may already be familiar with the tale. There’s the award to mark his 1994 induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and some backstage tour passes, but the most striking thing in the room is a wall-length portrait by Mr Brainwash that cleverly incorporates all of the Island Records album covers, displayed opposite replicas of the albums themselves.

The Bob Marley portrait by Mr Brainwash.
The most striking thing in the room … the Bob Marley portrait by Mr Brainwash. Photograph: © Fifty-Six Hope Road Music, Ltd

The One Love Forest offers a chance to slouch on beanbags or mount a rope-swing, but we’re hardly transported to the Jamaican countryside; beneath the hazy green lights and chirping birdsong, the fug evokes disinfectant and artificial grass, the plastic plants reminding us that we’re in Babylon and not the idyllic hills of Nine Mile, where Marley spent his formative years.

The semi-immersive aspect continues in the Soul Shakedown Studio, where Bluetooth headphones allow us to enjoy concert footage on various video screens. There are previously unseen 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 alternative of the lift shot that adorned the back cover of Uprising, evoking key moments of his career.

The Beautiful Life zone salutes Marley’s love of football and table tennis, but there’s a gratuitous display of the family-sanctioned Adidas Ajax third kit shoe, ironically beneath the song quote, “Don’t gain the world and lose your soul / Wisdom is better than silver and gold,” emphasising the tussles between art and commerce at the heart of the posthumous Marley industry.

Bob Marley.
Evoking key moments of his career … Bob Marley. Photograph: Dennis Morris/Fifty-Six Hope Road Music, Ltd

Upstairs, a long corridor littered with stage gear leads to the Concrete Jungle and Fan Art exhibition, which has more Mr Brainwash pieces and a range of portraits by largely uncredited artists – many of which are captivating. A piece made with discarded mobile phone components is particularly striking; others suggest Marley as a cosmic warrior, or biblical prophet. The final room honours widow Rita and the children and grandchildren who have become feted performers in their own right (including Ziggy, Stephen, Julian, Damian and Skip). Then exit through the gift shop, where One Love mugs and jigsaw puzzles are prominently displayed.

As implied by the name, the Bob Marley One Love Experience is not especially nuanced, nor trying to be deep; this is very much a commercial enterprise celebrating Marley as an industry success story as much as a creative force. Nevertheless, the family-friendly format is inclusive (if not hugely instructive), and whether diehard devotee or casual listener, there is plenty to savour for an hour or two if approached with an open mind.

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