This exhibition is dedicated to the work of Senga Nengudi (Chicago, 1943), an African American artist and central figure in Los Angeles' lively African American art scene during the 1970s and 1980s. Nengudi's oeuvre navigates through sculpture and dance, installation and performance, and, in this sense, this show is part of a whole year program entirely dedicated to Histories of dance at MASP. Influenced by Black liberation movements, Nengudi's years of artistic training coincided with the beginning of the Black Arts Movement, a significant political movement for the amplification and valorization of Black cultural production in the United States. Nengudi pursued concurrent degrees in Sculpture and Dance in Los Angeles, and her interest in Japanese culture and in the work of the avant-garde group Gutai led her to pursue studies in Japanology at Waseda University in Tokyo. Japanese forms of theater and dance, such as Kabuki and Butoh, as well as Yoruba (West Africa) ritual practices, improvisation and jazz informed Nengudi's repertoire.
Movement, transformation and impermanence are key concepts for Nengudi. They can be seen in several of her works: from the early ones like Water Compositions to the iconic series called R.S.V.P. — [Répondez s'il vous plaît] and performances that took place in different spaces in Los Angeles — which are all part of this show.
Through materials, forms and actions, Nengudi addressed issues regarding the body and its diverse social experiences. In 1975, after the birth of her first child, the artist began the extensive R.S.V.P. series, composed of sculptures and installations made of nylon mesh, more specifically, pantyhose that were stretched and/or filled with sand, knotted or attached to objects. Nengudi was interested in the transformative character of the said material as well as in the way the body could undergo several changes throughout life — from “tender, tight beginnings to sagging end...”, as she declared. Great part of this show consists of works from this series: installations that function as objects or dance partners, always demanding a response from the public, be it sensorial, visual, a memory or an insight.
Senga Nengudi: topologies brings together a selection of works covering the entire time span of Nengudi's oeuvre — from the early 1970s to the 2010s —, along with the documentation of performances and archives on the context in which her work was developed. The exhibition was organized in partnership with the Lenbachhaus in Munich, Germany, and it establishes a dialogue with the shows of the artists Trisha Brown, Hélio Oiticica and Babette Mangolte, all of which are Nengudi's contemporaries.
CONCEPT & IDEA Stephanie Weber, Curator, Lenbachhaus
PRESENTATION AT MASP Isabella Rjeille, Curator, MASP