What will artist Senga Nengudi be bringing with her this Saturday at 3:00 p.m. for her Plonsker Family Lecture in Contemporary Art and the Q & A following? In forty years of activity in the art world, Nengudi has produced a near lifetime’s worth of sculptural creations that incorporate found objects from women’s domestic life, performances and dance, and seemingly abstract installations that always circle around the human body. Her media often include women’s nylon stockings; discarded items, such as bicycle tires and vinyl tubes; and base natural elements like sand, dirt, and seeds. Nengudi’s stockings pulled to the point of stress convey the limits of bodily movements as well as the extreme changes and contortions of women’s bodies in periods of pregnancy and childbirth. Her choice of used garments reflects a belief that worn clothes retain a sense of the energy and movement of those who had inhabited them. Similarly, a use of ordinary and discarded objects make us more aware of these everyday sources of beauty and artistic inspiration.
Born in Chicago in 1943, Nengudi works and teaches today in Colorado Springs, Colorado. After having moved to California at age seven and while studying for both undergraduate and graduate degrees at California State University, Los Angeles, she volunteered at the influential Watts Towers Arts Center. There, she learned first-hand about community-based practice and experimented with new materials. At the same time, a teaching assistant position at the Pasadena Art Museum exposed her to the work of Robert Rauschenberg and Allan Kaprow, two important precedents for her work. For years, she swapped studios with fellow sculptor David Hammons, living a bicoastal life in East Harlem and Los Angeles.
Nengudi’s performance pieces, often produced with fellow artist-collaborators such as Hammons and Maren Hassinger, as well as her mixed-media installations like Only Love Saves the Day, 2011, on view at WCMA in Now Dig This!, are ephemeral and often use fragile materials. Objects may disintegrate, rupture, or wear over time. The experience of art in the moment is paramount to Nengudi. Reusing materials others might find useless, Nengudi sheds light on the possible resilience and reformation of the disenfranchised and disregarded. In addition, questions of women’s sacrifices for beauty and challenges particular to women’s experience come to the fore when looking at these works.
Come join Nengudi this Saturday for what should prove to be a scintillating lecture and discussion about her work!
—Jane R. Becker, WCMA blog writer
Senga Nengudi setting up for a performance of RSVP X in her Los Angeles studio, 1976. Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Erben Gallery, New York.
Senga Nengudi, Only Love Saves the Day, 2011, nylon and sand. Private collection. Photo by Arthur Evans.