The Other Lawrence of Arabia

With requisite bush hat pulled low over my eyes to shield my face from the glaring sunlight, my trigger finger poised over the button, I scan the crowd of industrious workers bustling around me. My trained eye constantly focusing and shifting, looking for the right combination. I see it, seize the moment, and shoot. The men with their taut faces and muscular arms pulling on ship rigging may be dead now but I immortalised them in monochrome.

A cloud of filthy diesel smoke fills the air as the fully laden dhow starts to pull away from the dhow moored alongside it and turns its mighty bow towards the creek mouth. Through the cluster of thick masts I catch a glimpse of huge sun-bleached sails unfurling and suddenly a childhood memory bubbles to the surface and I recall having seen this image before. When I was a child basking in the exquisite panorama of Kenya living for a while in a beachfront bungalow nestled among the pines and palm trees lining the white sandy shore of Mombasa. Far out on the line where the infinite and luminous blues of sky and sea met, I'd sometimes catch sight of a dhow gliding like a graceful swan, its sails cupping the Easterly wind. Little did I know back then that I would soon be following that swan to its destination.

watercolour by C.S.Lawrence

watercolour by C.S.Lawrence

Its sometime in the mid 70s. My family left East Africa in 1969 and settled first briefly in Bahrain then in Dubai..I'm standing amidst the hustle and bustle of Dubai's creek, taking in the cacophony of noise: dhow captains in their pristine white robes shouting instructions to the cargo handlers: Indians hoisting and hauling huge sacks which had probably been traded for the spices they brought with them on their inbound journey from India or Pakistan; Africans, black as the ace of spades, their muscular bodies glistening from their exertion as they offload pallets laden with electronic goods from Japan. It's exhilarating. The heady mix of smells, some pungent, some aromatic- tar, diesel, sea salt, spices- hangs in the thickening air as the sun climbs to its midday perch. Everything is shimmering in the humid glare.

"Outward Bound" pastel drawing by C.S.Lawrence

My shirt is sticking to my skin; the heat is unbearable. I have filled several rolls of film and decide to head back home to process them in the cool airconditioned makeshift darkroom that my sister and I had set up in a spare bathroom. So many of the large black and white photographs we developed had once adorned our walls but in the shifting sands of my nomadic life much has gotten lost in transit. But I had over the course of my art career in the Arabian Gulf captured and preserved in full colour my experiences of that period of my life. The paintings hang in other people's houses now.  I am left with the memories but as I write this, decades later, they remain vibrant and vivid. I can almost smell them.

watercolour by C.S.Lawrence

watercolour by C.S.Lawrence

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

You can view some more of my Orientalist & Arabian Gulf paintings HERE

2 thoughts on “The Other Lawrence of Arabia

  1. Roger Floyd

    What a pleasure to stumble upon your blog! Your paintings are wonderful and your descriptions of the creek-side scene rekindle old sensations. Both our lives have touched Manama and Dubai in the '70s, London, for me, in the '80s and later Malta where the bonds of an old friendship drew me for a visit and two lines of my family tree have roots. 

    We even share Africa in the '60s but my beach was on the other ocean. I wish you well on your beautiful island.  Thank you for the memories. 

    • admin

      Hi Roger…its moments like this that make the rather laborious process of crafting an engaging blog so worthwhile! How remarkable that our lives have intersected at so many points…and the Malta connection is the cherry on the cake! Thank you in return for connectng wit me and underscoring the fact that we really do live in a small world. Cheers and any time you’re back on the Rock you’re most welcome to come visit my art studio 🙂

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