Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.
Redemption Song, Bob Marley
A Rebel Prophet documents Marley’s rise as a freedom fighter and a musical poet through a series of photographs taken by Esther Anderson, Jamaican filmmaker, photographer and activist. This exhibition marks the first retrospective of Anderson’s photographs of Marley in London.
“My work is not pandering to those who know Bob Marley as a music icon. My photographs reveal Marley beyond the bounds of a musician, as the messenger who could reach out to a global audience, a poet of past and future.” E. Anderson
Up close and personal, Esther’s portraits reveal Marley’s mystical transition from a radical street poet, a rebel who was political – but resisting the fact that he was and ultimately the rise that would make him and the Wailers the global voice of the dispossessed. Marley practiced ‘natural politics’, not necessarily through means of dissent, but an innate sense of freedom from any strained campaign, pervading through the masses indiscriminately. Marley was an immensely political figure despite his protestations to the contrary. He was certainly regarded as such by those jockeying for power and influence in Jamaica.
At this time, he had not evolved into the Rastafarian global star he would become in the late seventies. In 1973, when the pictures were shot, Marley, the Wailers and Reggae music were still unbeknown to the world. Although Marley did not seek fame during his meteoric career, the recognition he had received for his lyrical genius had grown steadily to this day. In the year 2000, Time magazine and the BBC named him “Artist of the Century.”
During the sixties and the seventies, Esther Anderson documented her own culture through music, dance and photography, while exploring her own representation as an actress in Hollywood and London with artists like Sidney Poitier, Marlon Brando and Sammy Davis Jr. She later went behind the camera as a cinema pioneer, launching her unique kaleidoscopic visions. As a Frida Kahlo from Jamaica, Esther’s collaboration with Bob is the crystallisation of two young rebel souls into the totality of Art: love, music, photography, cinema, architecture, Ethiopianism and political resistance. They are both radical and uncompromising. Arguably, their best creation was an unwavering commitment to helping spread Reggae music and the Rastafarian message of peace and love to a global audience. Esther’s series of photographs represent a creative journey in which she is the narrator taking the viewer to the Caribbean islands, to Jamaica and into 56 Hope Road.
“The Power of an image to inform, to effect change, to distort is endless. It is that power that this image projects out into the world, onto the viewer. Most of these pictures are unseen works that make up the collection which was used to launch the first two Albums on Island Records, CATCH A FIRE and BURNIN. That photograph of Bob smoking was the first time anyone had been portrayed in that way, as he said he was “partaking of the sacred sacrament for his meditation”. The image became for Island records a powerful marketing tool, but for the people an emblem of amnesty and freedom… Long live the Power of the image…that’s what the photographs have for me.” Esther Anderson
As Guerrillero Heroico by Alberto Korda, is an emblem of the spirit of the revolution, ‘Bob smoking a spliff’ holds a similar leverage, both tribal and sovereign, revolutionary and self- governing. The BURNIN double Album Cover with the Vinyl was chosen to be included among other memorabilia from the last century, and placed in a Capsule which is housed in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, to be opened on the night on 2099-3000.
In Esther’s collection of photographs Marley stands free from the oppressive shadows of Babylon, elevating his gaze on the horizon of dissent; a succour to the spirit of the downtrodden and the spurned. His becoming and message of self-liberation was a lucid progress that permeated the minds of many and continues to do so to this day.
“In the history of change, revolutionaries have employed different means of becoming and of effecting change. Bob took it beyond the sonic pulse as where some draw his limitation. This exhibition marks him as much more; he assembled the disparate voices of the disenfranchised into one voice to create a universal fellowship of reform and freedom. More than ever, a true shepherd is needed once again.” Says Eleesa Dadiani, director of Dadiani Fine Art.
The hypocrisy of Colonial Rule was a constant theme in Marley’s work. He rallied against injustice and inequality, consolidating the words of a brilliant speech that HIM Haile Selassie I delivered at the United Nations in 1963 into his song “War.” In an island ruled for centuries by the British as a slave colony, with a legacy of corruption, divisiveness, and often violent patronage, Bob called for reform, awakening and social change in togetherness.
Forty years to this day, Marley suffered an attempt on his life, which in itself is an affirmation to his political effect; it is not in folly that is often said “what’s good for reform, is bad for the reformers” yet in this case, the young rebel spirit was aligned with the change that was awakened, and so the effect, both personal and civic, lives on to this day – ever relevant.
How long shall they kill our prophets, while we stand aside and look?
Redemption Song, Bob Marley