Stella Gaitano, Ibrahim El-Salahi’s Prison Notebook, and Sudanese Uprisings

Sudanese artist Ibrahim El-Salahi was arrested in September 1975 and held for six months in Khartoum’s Kober Prison, wrongfully accused of involvement in an anti-government coup, much like the character of Hassan Abbas in Stella Gaitano’s Souls of Edo. In the weeks after El-Salahi’s release, he produced “Prison Notebook,” which is currently on view at the MoMA in New York:

Ibrahim El-Salahi. Untitled from Prison Notebook. 1976

At the MOMA website, you can browse through images and text from the notebook, listen to audio, and also read a short story by Stella Gaitano, inspired by the Prison Notebook and Sudans’ recent uprising, in Arabic or as translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid, Salah Mohamed El Hassan Osman, and Abed Haddad.

El-Salahi had said, of writing the prison notebook: “I started to record it so as not to forget. Not only for me but for anyone who is innocent and has been imprisoned under false pretenses. Just to remember what can happen.”

Gaitano’s latest novel, the vivid and page-turning Souls of Edo, is a historical novel set in the 1970s and 80s, around family life during that period’s coups, counter-coups, and popular protests. Gaitano said,”I would call El-Salahi’s small book a simple text, but one that is at the same time incredibly profound in its connotations and meanings. Those sharp letters that intersect with the drawings declare that man is always free, no matter how many miserable wretches try to lock up his body in confined spaces. This was the case with the hero of my story, who locks himself up on the uppermost floor of a building, hiding from the authorities.”

Her new story, “The Rally of the Sixth of April,” opens:

“This was no normal morning…. The air was heavy with a confounding silence. It was a situation that could be described as a lying in wait, as a cautious staring between predator and prey, each waiting for the right moment to leap. Hussam was busy finding the right nooks to shoot the perfect photo. He stood behind a small window in a cramped room on the sixth floor of a building in the Souk Arabi district. Carefully, he began to adjust his equipment, training his camera over the heart of Khartoum, which was now abuzz with heightened security. The arrests began at 10 am, just over three hours before the start of the march. Many citizens were forced to leave the city center: to prevent gatherings, police and masked security men began to beat and disperse the people.”

More images from The Prison Notebook.

Read the story by Stella Gaitano, “The Rally of the Sixth of April.”