Ibrahim El-Salahi Untitled from Prison Notebook 1976

  • MoMA, Floor 4, 420 The David Geffen Galleries

From his lofty position on top of the prison wall,

We could see his massive darkish body overlooking us.

He was born in Ghazza and brought up in the Nuba Mountains.

He carries twenty bullets and a rifle, slung behind his back.

He cherishes the songs of Umm Kulthum.

He used to sing her songs with exhalations and sighs.

He lamented the days of his bygone youth.

We used to ask him to describe how the streets,

The people, and the buses on the roads looked.

He would grumblingly retort, saying he wanted to buy sugar,

But it was nowhere to be found on sale.

He wanted to get matches and gasoline for lanterns.

But to no avail.

He ended up buying two eggs for eight piastres and was left bewildered.

He had eight children, the eldest of whom was ready to go to college.

He used to go on singing and we kept asking for more.

During the long, boring evenings, searchlights

Flooded all corners of the prison yard.

Sleepless, and maddened by the ceaseless buzzing of swarms of mosquitoes

Sucking our blood.

During the day, the army of ants and swarms of flies,

Joining forces with the hellish day heat and sandstorms,

Endlessly assail and benumb the senses.

If not for the patience of Job on our part,

Trepidation and sullenness.

High above in the sky the kite bird and vultures flew.

We were over the moon the day a little dove stopped by.

We rejoiced in the presence of that bird of good tidings.

Ibrahim El-Salahi: I remember that one prison guard, one of those at the top of the wall, used to sing. He used to live in Egypt; he’s from the Nuba Mountains. Very, very, very dark in complexion. He used to sing the songs of Umm Kulthum, the famous Egyptian singer. And we loved that, because it was really something. Just imagine a guard with a machine gun on top of railings with floodlights, singing beautiful songs about love, about hope, about human beings, about freedom, about this and that. The days when he was not on duty we missed him enormously.

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 1/4 × 6 5/8" (28.6 × 16.8 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
319.2017.13
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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