hen a revered artist dies as young as Bob Marley did, at just 36, the desire to learn more about them often outweighs what’s actually left behind. The music, of course, will live forever, but limited memorabilia, photographs and trinkets are pored over meticulously until their impact fades and there’s nothing new to see or learn. The genius of the new One Love Experience, stationed at the Saatchi Gallery for the next 10 weeks before heading out on a global tour, is that it doesn’t pretend to provide countless new angles on the reggae icon’s life and career. Instead, it lets you dive headfirst into the world of the artist we already know and love in the most immersive way possible.
Curated by the Marley family alongside Jonathan Shank of Terrapin Station, One Love calls itself an experience rather than an exhibition, and the distinction is important. At every turn through the corridors of the Saatchi, visitors are encouraged to put themselves into the show and leave their mark on it for whoever arrives next to enjoy.
The usual fare – gold discs, hand-written lyrics, stage-worn outfits – are also on display, but the experience’s most impressive components are its deeply interactive aspects and the original art created exclusively for this run.
Across the experience, visitors travel through natural landscapes, dancefloors, games rooms and concert venues. First, you arrive at the One Love Forest, a room with synthetic grass and sounds of tweeting wildlife piped through speakers, soundtracked by Marley’s greatest hits while smoke billows from behind the shrubbery. Elsewhere, you’re handed a pair of headphones just outside the ‘Soul Shakedown Studio’ and beckoned onto a dancefloor to enjoy one of Marley’s revolutionary live shows while a giant disco ball sparkles overhead.
Another room, dubbed ‘The Beautiful Life’, focuses on Marley’s extracurricular passions, most notably football. ““Football is part of I. When I play, the world wakes up around me,” reads a giant quote – one of plenty of examples of Marley’s wisdom splashed across the walls throughout. From there, you can fire up the jukebox yourself, and play table football and other arcade games.
It all feels tantalisingly real, something often absent in tributes set up for beloved, intimately studied musicians, and no more than when a right turn takes you into a narrow corridor acting as a backstage area for one of his concerts. A muffled live performance of Marley’s plays from the other side of a huge curtain as you work your way through a maze of flight cases, guitars and setlists from past tours.
There’s also a fan art exhibition, featuring a wide array of powerful work created especially for the experience by devotees across the globe, before ‘The Next Gen Room’ sees the musical achievements of Marley’s extended family chronicled. As you depart, you’re encouraged to write a message of what ‘One Love’ means to you and pin it to a tree that occupies the center of the room. “Richness is love not money,” one 10-year-old writes, with another’s dangling message saying the words mean “safety and vulnerability in courage and relearning”. You’ve got to be pretty stony-hearted not to leave with a warm sense of hope and renewal after that.
At the end of its 10 weeks at the Saatchi, the exhibit will undoubtedly feel even more vibrant and alive than it does on opening day, after fans from across the world travel to leave their mark on it. More a living, breathing organism than a reverent museum exhibit, One Love asks you to add to Bob Marley’s history rather than simply observe it.
Saatchi Gallery, from February 2 to April 18, bobmarleyexp.com