Walter Battiss visited the Persian Gulf and the island of Bahrain in the early 1960s, only managing to view the Hadhramaut, the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, from the aeroplane window. Southern Yemen (formerly Aden, a British Protectorate) cast a spell over the artist and he managed to gain entry into the Hadhramaut some years later, visiting the area for three weeks in late 1964, early 1965. He set himself the task of recording his impressions of this country in the form of a series of ink drawings, possibly the first Western artist ever to do so. He described the coastal towns as ‘magical, almost like pink and green alabaster, backed by rose-green mountains’. Battiss traversed this enchanting area, sketching the major coastal towns of Mukalla, Saiyun, and Shihr and the surrounding areas.
After his return to Pretoria, Battiss gave an illustrated talk about his visit. He spoke of his curiosity about the mystique of the desert, the scents and smells in the heat, and the rhythm of the local Bedouin. He said: ‘Who wants to talk of a lovesickness for the desert that must be thought of and felt without words, with silences for nouns and breathing for verbs’.1 These drawings certainly leave one in complete awe of the beauty of the Hadhramaut, seen through the artist’s eyes.
1. Walter Battiss, quoted in Murray Schoonraad (1985) Battiss in the Hadhramaut: Sketches of Southern Arabia. Pretoria: Elmur Publications, page 7.