Ibrahim El-Salahi Untitled from Prison Notebook 1976

  • MoMA, Floor 4, 420 The David Geffen Galleries

It was Monday, the eighth of September, 1975, corresponding to the third day of Ramadan in the Hijri year 1395. At swelteringly hot midday, they came.

They were two General Security officers,

One of them with puffy cheeks,

Like dumplings prepared as alms for dead wealthy people.

I, without much ado, went with them.

There, I was thrown into a single dungeon, already occupied

By someone who had thrown up the contents of his stomach.

I was locked up behind securely bolted iron gates.

Someone came from outside the iron bars,

For the fourth time that day, to take down the details of my full name.

I was told then that the procedure was underway.

They were typing the papers.

I was to be transferred that day to the detention center at Kober (Cooper) Prison.

“There is no deity except You; exalted are You. Indeed, I have been of the wrongdoers.”

“Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.” There is no power nor strength except by Allah, the High, the Immense.

I walked in through the massive iron gates, guards,

And guns, into the prison yard.

My temporary new home.

I slept rough on the bare floor the first night,

Alongside a Khartoum University philosophy professor,

A lecturer in nuclear physics, among high-ranking judges,

Advocates, trade and student union leaders, political activists

From across the political spectrum and religious sects, and others . . . others . . . others . . .

I heard him tell his story with a big laugh,

Which infected his listeners, who burst into ceaseless laughter,

Their eyes welling with tears of laughter.

He was, and will become, a trade union leader:

“I defeated the candidate of the ruling party in the last general election.

I didn’t heed the instructions and directives of the regime.

That is why I was thrown into jail.”

Then, gradually, the thin layer of foggy ignorance started to be lifted from my mind’s eye,

And I began to perceive the true essence of things.

Ibrahim El-Salahi: I remember they said, “Now that your papers are signed, you are being taken to jail.” At that moment you become numb, because of the shock of what is happening to you. You don’t know what to say, you don’t know what to think. This is something that just fell out of the sky onto your head—bang—and you have to . . . There’s nothing you can do.

Publication excerpt from Ibrahim El-Salahi. Prison Notebook, 1976. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2018.
Medium
Ink on paper from a notebook with thirty-eight ink on paper drawings
Dimensions
11 1/8 × 6 3/4" (28.3 × 17.1 cm)
Credit
Acquired through the generosity of Marlene Hess and James D. Zirin, Catie and Donald Marron, Alice and Tom Tisch (in honor of Christophe Cherix), Marnie Pillsbury and Committee on Drawings and Prints Fund
Object number
319.2017.12
Copyright
© 2021 Ibrahim El-Salahi / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / DACS, London
Associated work
Prison Notebook
Department
Drawings and Prints
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