LEE SCRATCH PERRY
With works by Rashiyah Elanga, Invernomuto, Ishion Hutchinson, Rammellzee, Zadie Xa
Jamaican pioneer musician, visual artist and “Upsetter” Lee Scratch Perry (1936-2021) is a figure that cannot be relegated or confined to a specific creative field. Born Rainford Hugh Perry in a rural hamlet in Northwest Jamaica in 1961, he made his way to Kingston, where his career as a musician began. Perry worked at Studio One and he collaborated with producer Joe Gibbs, both experiences marked by a lack of artistic recognition.
Perry, however, emerged from this early period with two of his most well-known songs: “I am the Upsetter” and “People Funny Boy”, the latter one of the earliest examples of sampling in musical history. In the beginning of the 1970s, Perry began working as a producer and founded Black Ark Studio (later The Black Ark). It was the beginning of dub music, a free-mix style that employs the layering of sounds, rooted in the unique disorder that comes from superimposing technology and spirituality, at once percussive, melodic and pop.
It is at this juncture that he produced some of Bob Marley’s most renowned songs and became one of the pioneers of Reggae music. In 1979 Black Ark burned down, along with everything it contained. Tapes, vinyl’s, studio equipment, and the first traces of Perry’s visual expressions, all melted into the ground. The fire was deliberate, a response to Perry’s sense that the place was full of bad energy. This act of creative destruction (which would be repeated decades later in his studio in Switzerland) was a demonstration of Perry’s outsider, subversive spirit of resistance that spared no one, not even himself. And it set him on a new course. Soon after the fire, the “Upsetter” relocated to Europe and eventually settled in Switzerland.
In the late 1990s, Perry began to be recognized as a visual artist. His multidisciplinary practice, in which he involved his entire body and his physical surroundings, is characterised by a unique fusion of religious and symbolic belief systems including Christianity, Rastafarianism and Ettu (of West African origin, an elaborate ceremony performed by Yoruba-descended Jamaicans) as well as animist traditions. These influences are layered with symbols of consumer culture, such as corporate coats of arms and banking logos and bits and pieces of the devices that are emblematic of our hyper technological era. Collaged together they re-cast the way we read the recent history of things and the material world.
Perry’s path as a visual artist can be traced backwards in time through his music. In fact, it is only by placing them side-by-side that his music and artworks emerge as different, different because of the boundaries imposed by individual disciplines. The objects, both man-made and natural, that feature in Perry’s multimedia collage-works, however, are analogous to the sounds he explored while creating his music. The written words, large and small, which float and at times fight for space on his canvases, remind us of the existence of institutions like the I.M.F., but also of Genesis, Piss and Poop. His self-referential attitude became a form of activism; Perry is the Black Pope who told Margaret Thatcher and the Queen of England to heed his message and stop doing wrong. At once outside time and perfectly situated within the twentieth- and twenty-first-century capitalist era, Perry is now a timeless figure of political and cultural resistance. In his own words: “Technology is a robber who take what is not his. Technology is a thief.”
Twelve works by Perry are exhibited in Rome for the first time alongside contributions from a group of multi-disciplinary creative figures, who differ in terms of geography and generation, but who together make explicit the complexity of the Jamaican artist’s influence. Jamaican poet, Ishion Hutchinson, and the Italian artistic duo, Invernomuto, contribute works that act as a homage to Perry’s ongoing legacy. A sculpture by cult American artist, musician, underground graffiti writer and Afrofuturist icon Rammellzee (1960 – 2010) brings us the street art scene of the 1980s in New York City, while the works of two emerging artists, Rashiyah Elanga and Zadie Xa, suggest two very different ways of constructing alternative realities made up of worldly, pop and spiritual elements.
With the support of Istituto Svizzero Roma
Heartfelt thank you to Collection Gallizia, Paris