Spirit of Afrika

I love scary movies-not the slash and burn type-more of the spooky sort. I recall watching one such movie ages ago, late at night (when else?), alone (because no-one else fancied being scared shitless) and almost dislocated my back from frequent sliding off sofa and chucking my poporn bucket in the process. The Poltergeist. Something about furniture and objects suddenly moving of their own volition is creepy, to put it mildly.

Sometimes my own brain does it to me, usually involving childhood memories which have lain incubated in the back drawer of my mind. Suddenly decades later, without warning, the drawer involuntarily opens like it's been triggered by a remote signal, and dumps a pile of memories in my lap. None that scare the bejeezus out of me, but it feels like paranormal activity.

In 2000, after two decades in the Arabian Gulf,my life, as it has often tended to do, darted off on a different tangent. Nothing too out of the ordinary, just the dismantling of over twenty years worth of emotional ties and moving myself to another continent. I rarely do things in half measures. I went to Naples Italy and then 2 years later on to Malta. The marking of that transition on my life map could be depicted as an innocuous buoy floating out at sea,  but beneath it hung a thick line of rope running straight down into murky depths, weighted down by a barrel of personal trauma. There I am landed on the shores of Malta, 44yrs old, being separated from my four children and having lost much of my worldly possessions. Without doubt, St.Paul's shipwreck wasn't a patch on mine!

But in truth

it felt more like this:

For reasons I can't recall, shortly after finding my footing in Malta, something triggered the back drawer to spring open. A flood of images tumbled out. The scent of red earth, sun-dried grass and wide open spaces was palpable as I toyed with the curled up corners of these nostalgic recollections. Vivid and deeply moving. But I was just a kid in Africa; how did that dark alluring continent have such a lifelong impact on me? Much of my childhood would have been spent in the company of other colonials standing around on verandas or spacious lawns. Women in their sleek  floral frocks nursing cold glasses of G&Ts in their manicured hands; men in their stiffly creased cotton shirts and tailored trousers, puffing on cigars. Privileged white folk. My only real experience of Africans would have been our fleet of household staff in Dar es Salaam and Niarobi-I can to this day recall the smell of meelee (corn) cooking in a pot in my Nanny's room, and seeing Fred the cook in his gleaming whites standing over a huge metal cauldron full of boiling water…and screaming crabs.

My visual library is loaded with memorised images collected from the many long-distance excursions my family and I went on. Passing through dusty African villages with skinny kids and scruffy dogs loitering outside rickety Dukas (shops), their facades plastered with rusting metal signs advertising the delights of Coca Cola and such like. Standing back on a grassy kerb watching the menfolkup to their calves in sticky red mud as they heaved and shoved to get the rear wheels of our bogged down Land Rover out of a rut that once had been a dusty road cutting sharply through the endless grassy plains. (photo from Dick Hedges Old Africa Stories blog)

Almost every recollection I have of East Africa sits with the motionless poise of a bush tracker on the peripheral spaces of my memory. Whether it was the sensory overload of rich vibrant colour stirred together with the smells of wild unbridled landscape, Africa got under my skin and burrowed into my bloodstream.

In 2004, more than 30 years after having left Africa, I begin painting my personal experience of it. Faces of Africa was launched at the Casino Di Venezia Birgu. It was a truly sumptuous affair, brought about by the collaboration of two remarkably creative and enterprising people: Mr. Wilfred Sultana and Ms. Miriam Fiorini.

Ms. Miriam Fiorini, Mr. Moschini, then Director of Casino Di Venezia, myself and Mr.Wilfred Sultana.

This launch was to be followed by a string of solo exhibitions, many of which focused on my growing obsession with painting faces, particularly African faces. I recall in the early days being cautiously advised by some folk in the local art scene that launching my art career in Malta with such an "unusual" theme would probably amount to career suicide. But, supported by the unfailing faith that Miriam and Wilfred had in me, I was to prove them wrong. Much to my delight.


2 thoughts on “Spirit of Afrika

  1. Natalie Boehm

    Talk about triggers! I don't think anyone who has spent time in East Africa can hear mention of the smell of red earth without being transported back for a moment – and a tendency to linger on for just a while.


    • C.S.Lawrence

      I think only those who have lived, if but for a short time, in Africa can relate to how emotionally potent those "triggers" are. Let alone those like myself having spent a childhood there. Yet, inspite of the impact it had on me as a child, I still envy folks like yourself who experienced it as adults. I have a growing but by no means comprehensive collection of memoirs of Africa.." I Dreamed of Africa", "Coctails Under The Tree of Forgiveness", "Lets Not Go to The Dogs Tonight" and of course "Out of Africa", all of which I can somehow relate to so well, even if my own experience was limited to the knee high perspective of a child!

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