top of page


The Senga Nengudi Papers

by Khalifaziz B.

Black and white portrait of Senga Nengudi, May 1977
Black and white portrait of Senga Nengudi, May 1977

With funding assistance from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant project, “A Range of Experiences: Documenting African American Women’s History and Achievements,” the Amistad Research Center invites you to explore the history and art of Senga Nengudi. Nengudi, born Sue Irons on September 18, 1943, is a visual artist notable for her work in sculpture and performance. After studying art and dance at California State University, Los Angeles and Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan, Nengudi went on to create art as part of the Black avant-garde communities of 1960s-1970s Los Angeles and New York City, including Studio Z, a collective known for improvisational and experimental practice. Among her more notable collaborators were fellow Studio Z artists David Hammons and Maren Hassinger. Throughout her career, Senga Nengudi’s work has been exhibited in numerous galleries, including in the Just Above Midtown Gallery in New York City and the Pearl C. Woods Gallery in Los Angeles.

Senga Nengudi with artwork, undated
Senga Nengudi with artwork, undated

Senga Nengudi’s work deals heavily with transformation; she uses abstract, sometimes shifting forms to convey complex ideas about the “shape” or nature of her subject. Pantyhose and water-filled vinyl bags are two materials Nengudi uses to demonstrate the varied and complex shapes that ideas can hold. The “R.S.V.P.” exhibit is a prime example of this ongoing theme; in this series, Nengudi uses pantyhose to represent the elasticity and transformative nature of the feminine form. The pantyhose were filled with sand, stretched and fixed to gallery walls to demonstrate the ways through which the woman’s body is stretched and transformed by pressure. Her choice of nylon adds a commentary on the irreversibility of some such transformations, as nylon is a material which loses its restorative properties over time, if given sufficient stress.

Senga Nengudi, R.S.V.P. X, Fall 1976
Senga Nengudi, R.S.V.P. X, Fall 1976

The Senga Nengudi papers at the Amistad Research Center compile records reflecting more than fifty years of Nengudi’s career. Through documentation and photographs, the Center has collected records of her famous “R.S.V.P.” exhibition as well as “The Concept as Art,” “Studio Z,” “Individual Collective,” “Afro-American Abstraction” and others. The performances “Dance Card” and “The Treader” are also included in the collection in video format along with other performances as audiocassettes, CD-ROMs, DVDs and VHS tapes. The papers contain copies of Senga Nengudi’s 1994 concept and travel diaries, business correspondences and samples of Nengudi’s work, including an original charcoal drawing. Additionally, there are photographs and negatives which feature contemporaries of Nengudi, most notably Maren Hassinger, Ulysses Jenkins, Barbara McCollough and Franklin Parker.

The Senga Nengudi papers are a wonderful resource for fans of Nengudi, the Black avant-garde artistic genre or anyone fascinated with art history. Nengudi’s work truly reflects a unique style and interpretation of the world. We are proud to have her work housed here. Nengudi’s papers are currently being preserved and will be available to researchers equally moved by her style.

Institute of Museum and Library Services

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services [MH-245560-OMS-20]. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

If you would like to support the funding of ARC’s Women’s Project, please donate via Amistad’s Network for Good.


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


bottom of page