Senga Nengudi

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Senga Nengudi
BornSue Irons
September 18, 1943
Chicago, Illinois US
Alma materCSU, Waseda University
OccupationVisual artist
Years active1960s-present

Senga Nengudi (born September 18, 1943) is an African-American visual artist best known for her abstract sculptures that combine found objects and choreographed performance. She is part of a group of African-American avant-garde artists working in New York and Los Angeles from the 1960s onward.

Early life and education[edit]

Nengudi was born as Sue Irons in Chicago in 1943, and grew up in Los Angeles and Pasadena with her mother.[1] Her cousin Eileen Abdul-Rashid is also an artist.[2] Nengudi studied art and dance during the 1960s at California State University, Los Angeles, graduating with a BA in 1967.[3] She then spent a year studying at Waseda University, Tokyo. Afterwards, she returned to California State University, from which she received her MA in sculpture in 1971. During college she worked at the Watts Towers Art Center when Noah Purifoy was the director. She also worked as an art instructor at the Pasadena Art Museum and the Fine Arts Community Workshop.[2] She moved to New York City shortly thereafter to continue her career as an artist, and she traveling back and forth between New York City and Los Angeles frequently.[2] She lives and works in Colorado Springs, Colorado.


Nengudi was part of the radical, avant-garde black art scenes in both New York City and Los Angeles during the 1960s and 1970s. She was a member of the Studio Z collective, also known as the LA Rebellion, that comprised African American artists "distinguished by their experimental and improvisational practice"[4] David Hammons and Maren Hassinger, also members of Studio Z, were frequent collaborators with her work.[5]

She worked with two galleries in particular: Pearl C. Woods Gallery in Los Angeles (owned and directed by Greg Pitts) and Just Above Midtown in New York. Just Above Midtown (JAM) was owned and directed by Linda Goode Bryant who influenced Nengudi.[2] She has described the creative energies of working with galleries like these two that were "trying to break down the walls" for the black artist community.[2]

"Respondez s'il vous plait" ("R.S.V.P."), 1975–77[edit]

In 1975, following the birth of her son and seeing the changes in her body, Nengudi began her "respondez s'il vous plait" (RSVP) series for which she is best known. Combining her interest in movement and sculpture, Nengudi created abstract sculptures of everyday objects through choreographed sets which were either performed in front of a live audience or captured on camera. The sculptures were made from everyday objects, like pantyhose, and parts were stretched, twisted, knotted, and filled with sand. The finished sculptures were often hung on gallery walls but stretched across gallery space, evoking the forms of bodily organs, sagging breasts, and a mother's womb.[6] For her, the use of pantyhose as a material reflected the elasticity of the human body, especially the female body.[7] These sculptures as well as her later performance pieces involving pantyhouse expressed a mélange of sensuality, race identify, body image, and societal impacts on women's bodies.[8]

Nengudi's "R.S.V.P." sculptures have made more recent appearances in traveling group shows, including "Now Dig This! Art & Black Los Angeles 1960–1980" (2011–2013) and "Blues for Smoke" (2013).[9]


In 1978, Nengudi paired with Hassinger for a performance piece in which the two artists improvised movement while entangled inside a large web of pantyhose. The performance symbolized the ways in which women are restricted by societal gender norms. Nengudi also took many staged photographs during this period. She often appeared anonymously in them herself as a genderless figure, defying definition.

The same year, Nengudi and members of the Studio Z collective (including Hammons and Hassinger) performed Ceremony for Freeway Fets under a freeway overpass on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles. Nengudi designed costumes and headdresses made of pantyhose for the performers. Hammons and Hassinger played the roles of male and female spirits, with Nengudi performing as a spirit to unite the genders. Both the dance performance and soundtrack, performed by members of Studio Z, were improvised.[10]

In 2007, she created a video installation entitled "Warp Trance", and her residency at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia articulated the experiences of textile workers.[11]

In March 2017, Nengudi participated at the Armory Show in New York City in the Focus Section. The booth was presented by Thomas Erben Gallery and Lévy Gorvy.[12]

Nengudi also participated in the 2017 Venice Biennale, Viva Arte Viva, May 13 – November 16, 2017.

"Warp Trance"[edit]

During her 2007 residency at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, PA, Nengudi incorporated video art into her practice for the first time.[13] During visits to textile mills around the state, she recorded video and audio footage of the textile mills in full operation, and she also collected objects, like Jacquard punch cards, which were used to program Jacquard loom machines, mechanizing textile mills. In the final installation, Nengudi projected video footage onto a vertical screen of punch cards in a space with ambient sound from the audio recordings.[13] The work explores themes of technology, the politics of labor, contemporary music, and the repetition of ritual dance.

Exhibitions and museum collections[edit]

Nengudi's work can be found in the museum collections of the Museum of Modern Art, NY, The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY, and Brooklyn Museum, NY.[14]

Selected exhibitions[edit]

  • 1970: Sapphire: You've Come a Long Way Baby, group exhibition. Gallery 32. Los Angeles, California.
  • 1971: 8 artistes afro-américains, group exhibition. Musée Rath. Geneva, Switzerland.
  • 1977: Répondez s'il vous plaît (RSVP), performance. Pearl C. Wood Gallery. Los Angeles, California. Just Above Midtown Gallery. New York City.
  • 1977: The Concept as Art, group exhibition. Just Above Midtown Gallery, New York City.
  • 1977: Studio Z: Individual Collective, group exhibition. Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, California.
  • 1980: Dialectics of Isolation: An Exhibition of Third World Women Artists of the United States, group exhibition. A.I.R. Gallery, New York City.
  • 1980: Afro-American Abstraction, group exhibition. PS1, New York City. Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio. Laguna Gloria Museum, Austin Texas. Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, Los Angeles, California.
  • 1981: Air Propo, group performance with Cheryl Banks and Butch Morris. Just Above Midtown Gallery, New York City.
  • 1981: Vestige-"The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus", solo exhibition. Just Above Midtown Gallery, New York City.
  • 1988–89: Art as a Verb: The Evolving Continuum: Installations, Performances, and Videos by 13 Afro-American Artists, group exhibition. Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore Maryland. Studio Museum, Harlem, New York.
  • 1998: Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949–70, group exhibition. Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California.
  • 2003: Répondez s'il vous plaît, solo exhibition. Thomas Erben Gallery, New York City.
  • 2004: From One Source Many Rivers, solo installation. Carnegie International 2004–05, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  • 2005: Double Consciousness: Black Conceptual Art Since 1970, group exhibition. Contemporary Art Museum, Houston, Texas.
  • 2006: Side by Side, group performance with Maren Hassinger. Fondation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporain, Paris, France.
  • 2007: WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, group exhibition. Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California. PS1, New York City.
  • 2007: Senga Nengudi: Warp Trance. Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts' Morris Gallery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • 2008–10: Répondez s'il vous plaît, group exhibition with Rashawn Griffin. Studio Museum, Harlem, New York.
  • 2011: Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960–1980, group exhibition. Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, California. PS1, New York City.
  • 2012: Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, group exhibition. Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, Texas.
  • 2012: Love U, solo exhibition. Warehouse Gallery, Syracuse, New York.
  • 2013: Performances, 1976–81, solo exhibition. Thomas Erben Gallery, New York City.
  • 2013: Blues for Smoke, group exhibition. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City.
  • 2014: The Performing Body, solo exhibition. RedLine Gallery, Denver, Colorado.
  • 2014: The Material Body, solo exhibition. Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, Colorado.
  • 2016: Senga Nengudi:Improvisational Gestures, solo exhibition. Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, Washington.[2]


Complicating cultural, ethnic and racial classification became as central to Nengudi's work as her handling of gender constraints. She often combines African, Asian and Native American art forms in particular for her performance pieces and staged photographs. While her oeuvre highlights issues surrounding gender, race and ethnicity, Nengudi's work focuses on the ways in which everyone is negatively affected by these systematic forces and her pieces attempt to foster cross-cultural inspiration for men and women alike.

She often cites African and Eastern philosophies as underpinning her work.

Other work[edit]

In addition to her installations, sculpture, and performances, Nengudi also creates paintings, and photography and writes poetry under the pseudonyms Harriet Chin, Propecia Lee, and Lily B. Moor. In an interview, Nengudi explained how she decided to create these pseudonyms:

"It all started when I saw a rack of postcards with art that was incredible and very African-looking, but then when I turned over the postcard and saw that the artist was white, I thought, “What the heck?” Later I questioned why I responded that way. I thought about this issue of naming, and how we jump to conclusions based on the ethnicity of a name. Of course, if there is no name attached, then people just have to respond to the work in itself. But if it’s work by someone named “Yamamoto” or “Rodriguez,” there’s immediately another filter that we put on to view it. The different names I use all have a personal thread related to them. I want it to be like Br’er Rabbit, trying to be the trickster, to play with things, and to make people look at things differently." --Senga Nengudi[2]

She has also curated exhibits, like a solo show of Kira Lynn Harris at the Cue Art Foundation in New York in the spring of 2009.[15]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Nengudi, Senga; Fabric Workshop and Museum (2007). Senga Nengudi. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Fabric Workshop and Museum.
  • Nengudi, Senga; Warehouse Gallery (2012). Senga Nengudi : lov u. Syracuse, New York: Warehouse Gallery.
  • Nengudi, Senga; Claus, Elisabeth (2012). Senga Nengudi. Aschaffenburg, Bavaria: Neuer Kunstverein Aschaffenburg e.V. KunstLANDing.
  • Nengudi, Senga; Jones, Kellie; White Cube (2014). Senga Nengudi : alt. London, England: White Cube. ISBN 1906072876
  • Nengudi, Senga; Jones, Kellie; Luard, Honey; Feaver, Dorothy; White Cube (2014). Senga Nengudi : Alt : inside the White Cube. ISBN 9781906072872
  • Nengudi, Senga; Burnett Abrams, Nora; Auther, Elissa; Jones, Amelia; Pitts Angaza, Gregory (2015). Senga Nengudi : improvisational gestures. Denver, Colorado: Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. ISBN 9780692536254
  • Nengudi, Senga; Yasar, Begum; Bradley, Rizvana; Lévy, Dominique (2016). Senga Nengudi : [September 10 – October 24, 2015]. New York City; London, England: Dominique Lévy. ISBN 9781944379025


  1. ^ Senga Nengudi : September 10 – October 24, 2015. New York City: Dominique Lévy Gallery. 2015. p. 88. ISBN 1-944379-02-9.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Hegert, Natalie (September 28, 2016). "Repondez s'il vous plait: An Interview with Senga Nengudi". MutualARt.
  3. ^ Cederholm, Theresa Dickason (1973). Afro-American artists: a bio-bibliographical directory. Boston: Trustees of the Boston Public Library. pp. 139–140.
  4. ^ "Senga Nengudi – Art+Culture Projects". Art+Culture Projects. Retrieved 2018-03-04.
  5. ^ Doran, Anne. "Senga Nengudi at Thomas Erben (reviews)". Art in America. Retrieved February 10, 2014.
  6. ^ "Senga Nengudi | Now Dig This! digital archive | Hammer Museum". Hammer Museum. Retrieved 2018-03-04.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Hawbaker, KT. "Senga Nengudi stretches the limits of womanhood". Retrieved 2018-03-04.
  9. ^ "Senga Nengudi – Art in America". Art in America. Retrieved 2018-03-04.
  10. ^ Stillman, Nick. "Senga Nengudi's "Ceremony for Freeway Fets" and Other Los Angeles Collaborations". East of Borneo. Retrieved February 7, 2014.
  11. ^
  12. ^ Battaglia, Andy (March 2, 2017). "Visions for Pantyhose and Sand: Senga Nengudi's Booth at the Armory Show". ARTnews. Retrieved 2017-07-01.
  13. ^ a b "Senga Nengudi | Fabric Workshop and Museum". Retrieved 2018-04-05.
  14. ^ "Senga Nengudi Profile from the Thomas Erben Gallery website".
  15. ^ "Kira Lynn Harris". CUE Art Foundation. Retrieved 2018-04-05.

External links[edit]