LADY OF GARIAN – LIBYA WWII

Hugh Reid, a Brit who now lives in Calgary, Canada, sent me this photo and the story below about the famous Lady of Garian painted by Cliff Saber, an American volunteer  with the British 8th Army in North Africa during WWII.  When Saber’s unit was housed in barracks in the city of Garian (or Gharyan), he decided to paint murals to cheer up his fellow servicemen. After drawing the nude pinup, he realized she looked like the coast of Libya, so, as Hugh said, “He turned her into a map. Kind of. Notice how Cairo is the nipple.” Hugh was a teenager when his family lived in Tripoli in the 1950s, around the time I lived there. He went to  St. Edwards College, a private school in Malta, during that time. He keeps in touch with former British friends and loves to share photos of Tripoli from that time period and earlier, usually asking his friends to identify certain objects in the photos and answer historical questions as well.

DESERT RAT SKETCHBOOK

Cliff Saber wrote about his artwork in the Desert Rat Sketchbook in 1959.  He told readers the book was “primarily a pictorial record…which makes no claim to being a complete history of the whole desert campaign in North Africa, although it can be used as a reference. Its purpose is to depict the everyday life of the British 8th Army soldier (or Desert Rat), with whom I lived and worked. Paintings and narrative together cannot possibly give a full account of the sacrifices and the hell the 8th Army went through. That task will be recorded by historians.”

For the recreation room at Garian, I decided upon a super-duper nude encompassing the entire wall, 30 x 15 feet. Usually when a muralist works, he uses a scale pattern of a small sketch or a photograph of the sketch projected onto the wall. He carefully traces this, insuring his proportions. In this case I had neither the time to make this sketch nor the means of projecting it. And to top it all – no scaffolding. I managed to get up by means of boxes, but this meant that my nose was rarely more than six inches away from the wall. Starting from the head, I worked down to the feet on this beautiful virgin wall. To this day I don’t know how I kept the figure in proportion. When I stood back to inspect the completed figure, I found that the top outline of her body ironically coincided with the coastal line of North Africa. I marked her off as the Middle East from Tripoli (Lebanon) to Tripoli (Libya) and named parts of her body for nonexistent wadis: Wadi you hiding? Wadi you doing? Wadi you say? Wadi you know? Superimposed on her from Syria to Tunis were Lilliputian figures of the units, men, and doings of the 8th Army. Somewhere near the midriff is a blown-out German tank with the string of old boots tied behind and a caption on the back, ‘Just Married.’ Above her soared the RAF and American 9th Air Force whose eager men were parachuting onto her. Along with the confusion of armored cars, convoys, and slit-trench digging on her terrain was a key figure similar to the Kilroy of the U.S. Army. It was a little Tommy in a sitting position holding the inevitable stretched-out newspaper and shovel. He was among the parachutists, the infantry, the armored units, and even at chow call. Such was life in the desert.

 

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