Yassin Mohammedʹs cellblock chronicle
Egyptian activist and artist Yassin Mohammed, who walked free last month from a Cairo prison after serving a two-year sentence for taking part in a protest, chronicled daily life in his cellblock. By Hamza Hemdawi
Mohammedʹs sketches and paintings capture the claustrophobic reality of Egypt’s prisons, where tens of thousands have been locked away, often for months or years without charge, in the heaviest crackdown on dissent in the country’s modern history
Rights groups say abuse of political detainees is widespread in Egypt, but Mohammed says he wasn't physically abused, other than occasionally being pushed or slapped by guards. The real torment came from the unending boredom and the total lack of privacy. Mohammed said he found solace and privacy when he entered the shower and closed the curtain on himself
Mohammedʹs only escape was through art. He managed to paint in a corner of his cell where the guards could not see him. Fearing that the guards would destroy the art if they found it, he smuggled the paintings out
Others show rare signs of normality or even beauty. A depiction of a prison bathroom – including garbage pails used by the inmates to store water because of frequent outages – has signs on the wall reading: "Please, leave the bathroom as you would like to see it!"
In prison, says Mohammed, "plants and flowers are like life in the midst of death"
Since his release on 20 September, just a day short of his 24th birthday, Mohammed has been travelling across Cairo collecting the works he smuggled out. He would like to put on an exhibition of some 50 pieces, but Egypt's few remaining art galleries are unlikely to display his work for fear of angering the authorities