Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi:  Topologies, an exhibtion at the Philadelphia Art Museum until July 25, 2021

 

 

Senga Nengudi, American born 1943, is a Black American conceptual and performance artist. 

 

She is one of a group of artists who, beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, have expressed what their complex heritage is;

 

what it has meant to their lives and that of their community.

and how it can shape their futures also.

 

This began in the context of widespread civil unrest about war and the need for the extension of civil rights.

 

In a 1993 statement:

“I create a piece/peace.

I wipe it out with my hands, my feet, my body.

It remains in the fabric of time, threading through the millenia.

Remembered and forgotten a thousand times over.  Yet there.

Seen – not seen – experienced as part of the air.”

 

 

The artist studied dance and sculpture in California in the late 1960s. 

 

 

Visitors in May 2021 to this exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Museum

 

 

During this time and throughout the Watts racial uprising, Senga Nengudi became an arts educator at the Watts Towers Art Centers. 

 

There, working with Noah Purifoy and others, she developed her interest in impermanence and the transformation of materials. 

 

 

A visitor in May 2021 to this exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Museum

 

 

In her further teaching and education, she began to understand her own work as an environment or an experience;

 

and she incorporated her own physical  movements and those of others in her work.

 

 

 

A 1996 statement

 

“Anything I make has Black fingerprints all over it because I am black. 

Anything I make has the fragrance of a woman because I am a woman.

Anything I make has a recognition of Spirit  and a salutation to the One because I am that”

 

 

 

 

Red and Black Ensemble, 1971, reconstructed 2021, black polyetheline, red walls and floors. 

When first installed, the configuration of these shapes changed every day. 

 

 

In 1967, the artist returned to Los Angeles from a year in Tokyo and began to experiment with material and form. 

 

In 1971, she began a series called ‘Water Composition’ which moved her towards the ephemeral and corporeal. 

 

This is in sharp contrast with the minimalism then the dominant practice; and with the politically charged art which accompanied the Civil Rights movement.

 

 

Water Composition III, 1970 reconstructed 2018, vinyl, rope, water, food colouring. 

Loaned by the artist to the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2021

 

 

 

Water Composition VI, 1970 reconstructed 2018, vinyl, water, food colouring. 

Loaned by the artist to the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2021

 

 

 

Water Composition 1, 1970, reconstructed 2020, vinyl, rope, water, food colouring.  Loaned to the Philadelphia Art Museum by the artist and

Visitors were invited to touch and gently move this piece when it was first shown in order to feel the fluidity of their own bodies. 

The artist abandoned this kind of creation with the commercialization of the waterbed.

 

 

 

R.S.V.P  (Répondez s’il vous plaît)

1974-1980s

 

In 1974, the artist returned from New York to Los Angeles. 

 

She began experimenting with panty hose: hers, her friends, and bought in second-hand stores. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Senga Nengudi speaks of these anthropomorphic sculptures as ‘abstract reflections of used bodies’ in reference to

her own pregnancy

and the use of Black women as wet nurses for White children in the antebellum South.

 

 

 

 

R.S.V.P Revisited – Underwire, 1977, nylong mesh, metal coil. 

Private collection on loan to the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2021

 

 

 

and by reference to the nylons used by working women; and to the hair care use of nylons by Black men and women

 

and to the flexibility of the human body

 

 

 

Performance Piece, 1977, gelatin silver prints.  Photographs by Herman Outlaw. 

Senga Nengudi and the artist Maren Hassinger have been collaborators and friends throughout their careers.

Here Hassinger is using the nylon forms to bend and move her body.

Loaned to the Philadelphia Art Museum by the Stadlische Galerie im Lebnachhaus und Kunstbau, Munich, Germany

 

 

 

These are used pantyhose with tears and runs. They are impermanent and  disintegrate over time. 

 

 

R.S.V.P VI, 1976, reconstructed 2021, nylon mesh, sand.

Loaned to the Philadelphia Art Museum by the artist in 2021

 

 

 

 

R.S.V.P – October, 1976, reconstructed 2014, nylon mesh, sand, found metal object. 

This is an early experiment working with pantyhose as a medium and was presented in 1976 in a Los Angeles exhibition of ‘Newcomers’. 

Private loan to the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2021

 

 

 

 

R.S.V.P. Performance Piece, 1977, reconstructed 2012, nylon mesh, sand. 

Exhibition copy. Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

 

 

 

 

Inside/Outside, 1977, nylon mesh, rubber, foam, sand.

The title of this work and the oblong shape of its rubber tube refers to the organs of the body.  In the photograph the artist is wearing her creation as a crown or hair extension in a transformation of her body. 

Loaned to the Philadelphia Art Museum by the Stadlische Galerie im Lebnachhaus und Kunstbau, Munich, Germany

 

 

 

 

Swing Low, 1977, reconstructed 2014, nylon mesh, sand. 

Private collection on loan to the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2021

 

 

 

 

Insides Out, 1977, reconstructed 2003, nylon mesh, metal, sand. 

Private collection on loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

R.S.V.P Reverie

 

Senga Nengudi returned to pantyhose sculptures in the 2000’s.  This work recalls  a reverie, a memory of bits and pieces.

 

Bits and pieces are included in this work, like a reflection of this reverie, in which she extends her range of materials.

 

Here the body becomes inseparable from the bits and pieces of machinery;

 

and abstraction inseparable from everyday life.

 

 

 

 

Only Love Saves the Day, 2011, nylon mesh, sand. 

Private collection on loan to the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2021

 

 

 

 

Rubber Maid, nylon mesh, rubber, sand, 2011.

Private collection on loan to the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2021

 

 

 

 

R.S.V.P Reverie A, 2011, nylon mesh, found object, sand

A representation of the body of women after childbirth, and then as they age. 

Private collection on loan to the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Blossom, 2014, nylon mesh, metal. 

Private collection on loan to the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2021

 

 

 

Collaborative Work

 

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Senga Nengudi worked collaboratively with other artists to stage events in both New York and Los Angeles.  

David  Hammons often shared studio space with Nengudi in a Los Angeles dance hall.

 

His body prints were made by smearing his body – and those of friends, collaborators and others – with grease, baby oil and pigments to make impressions on paper. 

 

 

 

Untitled (Body Print), 1975, pigment on wove paper.

  David Hammons, American born 1941. Private collection on loan to the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2021   

In this print, Hammons is visible but not completely recognizable.

 

 

The artists with whom Nengudi collaborated included David Hammons, Huston Cornwill, Franklin Parker, Duval Lewis, Roderick Young and Ulysses Jenkins, Maren Hassinger. And others.  And the film maker, Barbara McCullough.

 

 

 

Rain, 1974, galvanized wire and wire rope.

Loaned by the artist and a gallery which represents her to the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2021

 

 

Their performances were improvised.

 

 

Scenes from Flying, 1982, at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery on the occasion of the opening of a landmark exhibition of Black American Art:  Afro-American Abstraction

The performers were Maren Hassinger, Ulysses Jenkins, Senga Nengudi and Franklin Parker

 

 

 

They absorbed influences from many sources: Yoruba mythology, spoken word, ritual, Fluxus performance, and the work of the Gutal Art Association in Japan whom Nengudi had come to know in her year in Japan in the late 1960’s.

 

 

 

Study for Mesh Mirage, 1978, gelatin silver print. 

Loaned by a private collection to the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2021

 

 

 

These performances, some of which were filmed, were the contexts in which Black  artists expressed the possibility and potential of human beings to call upon and express and live their rich heritages.

 

 

 

Masked Taping, 1978-79, gelatin silver prints; photo by Adam Avila 

The artist taped small pieces of paper all over her body and said that, moving thus adorned, she experienced the sensual sensation of the tape on her body; she explored her African heritage of mask-making, rites and dance; she continued her fascination with paper and its uses.

 

 

 

Recent Work

 

Sand paintings

 

The artist began her sandpaintings in the mid-1990s as a daily ritual and on an intimate scale.  Now they span whole rooms.

 

These creations reflect trans-cultural influences from several continents in which sand is used for ritual purposes. 

 

The use of sand and also car parts emphasize the artist’s interest in impermanence as do the two works propped against the wall and made of fragile materials.

 

 

 

On the ground:  Sandmining B, 2020, sand, pigment, car parts, nylon mesh. Loaned by the artist to the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2021 

 

On the left against the wall: Eggactly, 1996, dry cleaner’s plastic bag, spraypaint on paper. Private collection on loan to the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2021

 

On the right against the wall: Untitled, spray paint on paper, plastic bag.  Private collection loan to the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2021.

 

 

 

Warp Trance

 

Senga Nengudi was artist-in-residence in 2007 at Philadelphia’s Fabric Workshop and Museum.

 

She became interested in the production of fabric and in the history of textiles given its roles in North American and international colonial history.

 

She visited several industrial textile mills which used looms with the Jacquard mechanism.  This uses specially punched cards.

 

The rhythmic sounds of the machinery in this video can produce trance-like states and the images appear to move and dance to the staccato beat. 

 

The patterns pursue visitors until they have left the gallery.

 

 

 

 

Warp Trance, multi-channel video  created by Senga Nengudi. Audio created by Lawrence ‘Butch’ Mills, ?2020. Running at the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2021.

 

 

 

A statement in 1995:

 

“I have fought the joy of creating impermanent objects most of my life.

 

“An artist’s supposed greatest desire is the making of objects that will last lifetimes for posterity after all. 

 

“This has never been a priority for me.

 

“My purpose has been to create an experience which will vibrate with the connecting thread.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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