The first phase of “Oubliettes” took place between October and December of 2014, within and around the vicinity of the MDC Federal Detention Center in Sunset Park Brooklyn and at Momenta Gallery in NYC as a part of the exhibition: Work it Out. “Oubliettes” was conceived as a small, temporary offshoot of the prison abolitionist movement, situated both within and beyond the art context. The goal of the prison abolitionist movement is to transform society so that prisons and carceral techniques are no longer needed—to create a world that is truly free and just out of the one we currently inhabit. “Oubliettes” is a follow-up to an earlier collaboration with artist Trevor Paglen, who at the time (2005) was the Critical Resistance artist-in-residence. Critical Resistance was formed by Angela Davis, Rose Braz, Ruth Wilson Gilmore and others in the 1990s to help abolish the prison industrial complex, which they define as “the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems.”
MDC Brooklyn, also known as “Brooklyn’s Abu Ghraib” after coverage on Democracy Now, is significant as a site where at least 84 people were illegally rounded up, imprisoned without due process and systematically tortured—via humiliation, sleep deprivation, physical and sexual abuse—by the US federal government, shortly after 9/11, using similar methods to those used at illegal US sites around the world. MDC is situated steps away from the trendy Industry City Art and Design center.
Nsumi’s practice involves deep analysis of social systems and grassroots movements for social change, and then carefully focusing an unexpected array of skills, labor and collective intelligence (via the gift economy) so as bring about shifts in perception, increased capacities and catalytic growth within these movements. This process involves research and analysis of how social systems work, the study of collective intelligence and social biology, the complex nature of modern society and the history of social change.
“Oubliettes” involves an array of integrated practices including open-source intelligence analysis and production, strategic mapping, pedagogy, design, community engagement (workshops & outreach), grassroots neighborhood mobilization, an art installation, zine production and direct action. The work has two tactical goals: informing residents of Sunset Park about MDC and the abuses taking place within it and questioning—for a larger audience—the nature, consequences and trajectory of the PIC and solitary confinement as instruments of state control.