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Senga Nengudi Papers

Senga Nengudi (1943 -) is an African American visual artist known for her abstract sculptures that combine found objects with choreographed performance.

Born as Sue Irons in Chicago, Nengudi grew up in California. She studied art and dance at California State University in Los Angeles, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 1967. She studied for a year afterward in Tokyo, Japan at Waseda University and returned to California State University for graduate study receiving her Master of Arts in 1971.

Senga Nengudi, circa 1977. Photo credit: Adam Avila Photography (Los Angeles, California)

Nengudi was part of a group of radical, avant-garde black artists working in New York City and Los Angeles during the 1960s and 1970s. She was a member of the Studio Z Collective, also known as LA Rebellion and collaborated frequently with the collective’s artists David Hammons and Maren Hassinger. She also worked in the Los Angeles and New York galleries, Pearl C. Woods and Just Above Midtown.

Postcard: Senga Nengudi: Répondez S’il Vous Plait, 1977. Photo credit: Ken Peterson

Themes found throughout her work highlight issues around gender, race, culture, and ethnicity. Nengudi is best known for her R.S.V.P. “responsez sïlvous plait” series created in 1975 after the birth of her first child. Having an interest in movement and sculpture, her work reflects this focus through the use of found objects and choreographed live or filmed performances. She is also a painter and photographer, as well as a poet writing under the pseudonyms Harriet Chin, Propecia Lee, and Lily B. Moor.

Nengudi’s work can be found in many museum collections including, the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Hammer Museum (Los Angeles, California), the Carnegie Museum of Art (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), and the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Brooklyn Museum (New York).

The papers of Senga Nengudi mainly document her artistic career as a sculptor and performance artist encompassing correspondence, ephemera, and photographs. Images and documentation for Nengudi’s exhibitions and performances dominate the collection. There is extensive documentation for Nengudi’s most known work, the R.S.V.P “répondez s'il vous plait” series, created in 1975. Additionally, contracts and agreements, as well as exhibition catalogs, books, and publications highlighting her work are extensive. Correspondence is found throughout the papers and is professional in nature; however, there is a collection of personal letters, many of them from artist Cheryl Banks, with whom Nengudi collaborated. Of note within the collection is Nengudi’s travel diary and concept diary (1994). Nengudi’s papers contain an extensive collection of photographs, negatives, and slides of her artwork, performances, as well as individual and group collaborators. Individuals found within the photographs include Nengudi's artist contemporaries Maren Hassinger, Franklin Parker, Ulysses Jenkins, Greg Pitts, and Barbara McCullough. Moving image and sound recordings of Nengudi's performances are in the formats of VHS tape, audiocassettes, DVD, and CD-ROM. Of note is a video recording of the performance, Dance Card (1980) and The Treader (2007).

Performances and exhibitions documented throughout the collection include, The Concept as Art (1977); Studio Z: Individual Collective (1977); Afro-American Abstraction (1980); Air Propo (1981) a group performance with Cheryl Banks and Butch Morris; Double Consciousness: Black Conceptual Art Since 1970 (1998); and Senga Nengudi: Warp Trance (2007).

Images from the Senga Nengudi Papers. Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.

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