Senga Nengudi Improvisational Gestures
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Senga Nengudi began her career as a member of a group of avant-garde black artists working in Los Angeles and New York from the 1970's to the early 1980's, developing her performance style of melding the body in movement with the use of common, everyday materials in a series of collaborative performances with her artist peers, including Maren Hassinger, Ulysses Jenkins, Noah Purifoy, Franklin Parker, Houston Conwill, David Hammons, and Barbara McCullough.
Nengudi's approach to art making is inspired by and rooted in ritualistic performances from wide-ranging sources: traditional African ceremonies, Japanese Kabuki theater, Happenings from the 1960s, and other forms of modern dance. These cultural forms and rituals also root Nengudi's practice as a performance artist. Nengudi is best known for her abstract sculptures from this time, particularly her biomorphic nylon mesh series, "Respondez s'il vous plait" (1975-77), made from panty hose that the artist stretched, twisted and knotted, as well as filled at intervals with sand to create sagging breast or testicle-like bulges. In contrast to the works of many of her African-American peers, these sculptures abjured specific political content or ethnic associations, even as they powerfully evoked fragility and resilience, both bodily and psychic.
Examples of Nengudi's "R.S.V.P." sculptures have appeared in the traveling group shows "Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art", recently at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, "Now Dig This! Art & Black Los Angeles 1960-1980," recently at MoMA P.S.1, and "Blues for Smoke," at the Whitney Museum of American Art, a sign that a reappraisal of her sensual, witty art is under way. Concurrent to many of these exhibitions was "Senga Nengudi: Performances 1976-1981" at Thomas Erben Gallery, a presentation of documentary and staged photographs and videos that revealed the integral role sculpture played in an oeuvre encompassing performance art, ritual, music, dance and theater.
The UCCS Gallery of Contemporary Art (GOCA) and MCA Denver co-produced a major exhibition at the UCCS campus GOCA1420 space called Senga Nengudi: Improvisational Gestures, clebratingn the long-time UCCS Visual Art faculty member (1998-2009) and internationally lauded multi-media and performance artist. The exhibition was curated by Elissa Auther (Windgate Research Curator, Museum of Arts and Design and Bard Graduate Center) and MCA Denver’s Nora Burnett Abrams, and was the first survey of Nengudi's R.S.V.P. sculptures, performances, and related works from the 1970s to the present and includes an accompanying catalog publication.http://uccspresents.org/events/2015-16/senga-nengudi-improvisational-gestures