Ibrahim El-Salahi Untitled from Prison Notebook 1976

  • Not on view

I realized that we had been moved to different cells

To the west of where we were kept for a while.

They ran from south to north, like the eastern cells.

They were grim, black, bleak, and ugly.

In front of them extended a clay court,

Littered with fungi and stinky water and clad with smelly clay.

They ordered us to come out.

I came out in the form of a python

Through three doors at once.

I came out alone.

No one else.

I lay on the ground, motionless,

My head to the south, anticipating

The sunrise in the east.

A saw-shaped knife was brought,

Like the mast of a wooden boat on the Nile.

My head was chopped off from the neck,

And my python tail was cut off.

When my head, neck, and tail went dry,

The rest of my body was cut into three equal portions.

Then the knife disappeared

And my head, neck, and tail, the python’s tail, vanished,

But the rest of my body remained.

My back was like that of a crocodile: three roasted blocks of flesh.

The snake disappeared,

And I ran about looking for my head, my tail, and my chopped neck.

They ordered us to go back to our burrows.

Without turning back, I returned, in one breath, through the doors,

Three crystal stones.

Ibrahim El-Salahi: I felt that I was lying down like a boa. And this boa was chopped into three parts. I was left there, and someone told me to put together those parts that had been cut off and go back into my hole. This is a reflection on the jail and the cell, on being tortured. You are torn apart.

Publication excerpt from Ibrahim El-Salahi. Prison Notebook, 1976. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2018.
Ink on paper from a notebook with thirty-eight ink on paper drawings
11 1/8 × 6 3/4" (28.3 × 17.1 cm)
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
© 2021 Ibrahim El-Salahi / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / DACS, London
Associated work
Prison Notebook
Drawings and Prints

If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA’s Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].