Cinematography: Jeremy Eichenbaum / Editing: Carolin Röckelein / Voice and Sound: Senga Nengudi

 

Always deeply connected to the human body, Senga Nengudi’s work invokes ritual, narrative and connections between cultures disparate in geography and time.

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi
Sandmining B, 2020
Sand, pigment, car parts, nylon mesh and sound
Sound piece by Lily Bea Moor, “Only Love Can Make It Right” (2020)
Trumpet Composition: Butch Morris
Action Verbs: Senga Nengudi
Masking It Riff: Sanza Pyatt Fittz
Dimensions variable

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Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi
Sandmining B, 2020
Sand, pigment, car parts, nylon mesh and sound
Sound piece by Lily Bea Moor, “Only Love Can Make It Right” (2020)
Trumpet Composition: Butch Morris
Action Verbs: Senga Nengudi
Masking It Riff: Sanza Pyatt Fittz
Dimensions variable

Senga Nengudi
Sandmining B, 2020
Sand, pigment, car parts, nylon mesh and sound
Sound piece by Lily Bea Moor, “Only Love Can Make It Right” (2020)
Trumpet Composition: Butch Morris
Action Verbs: Senga Nengudi
Masking It Riff: Sanza Pyatt Fittz
Dimensions variable

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles
Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi
Sandmining B, 2020 (detail)

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles
Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi
Sandmining B, 2020 (detail)

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles
Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi
Sandmining B, 2020 (detail)

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles
Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi
Sandmining B, 2020 (detail)

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles
Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi
Sandmining B, 2020 (detail)

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles
Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi
Sandmining B, 2020 (detail)

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The artist’s large-scale installations offer profound insights into her way of thinking and working. Sandmining B is an example of Nengudi’s expansive sand installations, which she has produced over the last twenty years. Emerging from an area of sand is a series of breast-like mounds topped with intensely saturated pigments, as well as scattered metal car parts that snake through and extend upward from the work’s lightly tinted field. Along a back wall, a tall piece of muffler is adorned with dozens of tightly knotted nylons in shades of black, brown and blue, picking up the material that has featured so prominently across Nengudi’s work since the 1970s.

 

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi
R.S.V.P. Reverie 'Scribe', 2014
Nylon mesh, sand and found metals
231 × 137 × 170 cm
91 × 54 × 67 inches

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi

Performance Piece, 1978 (detail)
Silver gelatin prints, triptych
101.6 x 80 cm
40 x 31 1/2 inches

Nengudi worked with sand in her well-known R.S.V.P. sculptures (1970s–ongoing), where sinuous nylons are often weighted down by pendulous bulbs of sand. As the stockings stretch between walls, corners and floors, they recall the sensuality of limbs, breasts and vertebrae. The sculptures’ titular request to RSVP, or “please respond,” was in part literal: In improvisational performances, dancers (sometimes Nengudi herself) moved around and through the stockings’ fibrous structures, reshaping both the nylons and their bodies in the process. Nengudi embraces the ephemeral nature of her materials, and prefers to think of these objects as alive and changing rather than immobile, untouchable works of art.

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Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi
R.S.V.P. Reverie 'Scribe', 2014
Nylon mesh, sand and found metals
231 × 137 × 170 cm
91 × 54 × 67 inches

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi

Performance Piece, 1978 (detail)
Silver gelatin prints, triptych
101.6 x 80 cm
40 x 31 1/2 inches

Details
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Nengudi worked with sand in her well-known R.S.V.P. sculptures (1970s–ongoing), where sinuous nylons are often weighted down by pendulous bulbs of sand. As the stockings stretch between walls, corners and floors, they recall the sensuality of limbs, breasts and vertebrae. The sculptures’ titular request to RSVP, or “please respond,” was in part literal: In improvisational performances, dancers (sometimes Nengudi herself) moved around and through the stockings’ fibrous structures, reshaping both the nylons and their bodies in the process. Nengudi embraces the ephemeral nature of her materials, and prefers to think of these objects as alive and changing rather than immobile, untouchable works of art.

“I’m hoping that my work has a similar latent energy to it, even if it’s not being activated, that there’s a sense of movement.” – Senga Nengudi

Though technically static, Sandmining B also carries traces of energetic motion, in footprints visible in the sand, which offer traces of the installation’s making; and in sweeping sprays of pigment across the wall, whose vibrant hues of blue, green, yellow, orange and dark ochre echo those found on the sandy field below. Moreover, where stockings in her past projects have usually evoked the female body, here the appendages are distinctly male, with loose fragments of hose inferring femininity as well.

 

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi, Sandmining B, 2020 (detail). Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

 

Nengudi’s use of sand invokes the power of ceremony in traditions found around the world, including in the rituals of Japanese daily life that Nengudi encountered during her studies in Tokyo in the mid-1960s. From the colorful sand paintings of the Navajo people, created to absorb illness and pain from those who would sit on them, to Tibetan mandalas and the practice of Rangoli in India, where patterns in sand and other natural materials are created to ward off evil and give strength to those that pass through: Sand is closely associated with the passage of time and acts of healing.

Sandmining B summons these traditions of healing from toxic forces. In the work’s sound element (audible in the exhibition video below), the artist’s voice calls upon her ancestors, acknowledging the hardships—past and present—of the African-American experience, and encouraging all listeners to seize this potent moment of political and social awakening.

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Photograph of Senga Nengudi with Waseda University International Club at Heian Shrine, Kyoto, Japan, 1966. Senga Nengudi papers, 1947, circa 1962–2017. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Postcard depicting Navajo sand-painting, ca. 1920s. Courtesy Wellcome Collection and Creative Commons. Photo: J. R. Willis, Gallup, NM/Kodaks-Art Goods

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Rangoli design in Nizampet, India, 2013. Courtesy Creative Commons. Photo: N. Aditya Madhav

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Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Photograph of Senga Nengudi with Waseda University International Club at Heian Shrine, Kyoto, Japan, 1966. Senga Nengudi papers, 1947, circa 1962–2017. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Postcard depicting Navajo sand-painting, ca. 1920s. Courtesy Wellcome Collection and Creative Commons. Photo: J. R. Willis, Gallup, NM/Kodaks-Art Goods

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Rangoli design in Nizampet, India, 2013. Courtesy Creative Commons. Photo: N. Aditya Madhav

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Nengudi’s use of sand invokes the power of ceremony in traditions found around the world, including in the rituals of Japanese daily life that Nengudi encountered during her studies in Tokyo in the mid-1960s. From the colorful sand paintings of the Navajo people, created to absorb illness and pain from those who would sit on them, to Tibetan mandalas and the practice of Rangoli in India, where patterns in sand and other natural materials are created to ward off evil and give strength to those that pass through: Sand is closely associated with the passage of time and acts of healing.

Sandmining B summons these traditions of healing from toxic forces. In the work’s sound element (audible in the exhibition video below), the artist’s voice calls upon her ancestors, acknowledging the hardships—past and present—of the African-American experience, and encouraging all listeners to seize this potent moment of political and social awakening.

Interview with Senga Nengudi, Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, 2019

 

“All of this is somewhat of a disruption. . . I’m disrupting a flow of thought, an easy flow of thought.” – Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi
Bulemia, 1988/2018
Newspaper and gold spray paint
308 × 424 × 429 cm
121 1/4 × 167 × 169 inches

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Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi
Bulemia, 1988/2018
Newspaper and gold spray paint
308 × 424 × 429 cm
121 1/4 × 167 × 169 inches

Senga Nengudi
Bulemia, 1988/2018
Newspaper and gold spray paint
308 × 424 × 429 cm
121 1/4 × 167 × 169 inches

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles
Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, August 18–October 2, 2020
Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles
Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, August 18–October 2, 2020
Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles
Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, August 18–October 2, 2020
Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles
Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, August 18–October 2, 2020
Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles
Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, August 18–October 2, 2020
Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles
Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, August 18–October 2, 2020
Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles
Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, August 18–October 2, 2020
Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles
Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, August 18–October 2, 2020
Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

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In the room-sized installation Bulemia (1988/2018), newspapers cover the interior walls to create a visual and textual field that parallels the sandy field of Sandmining B. In the upper half of the installation, entire spreads are visible, giving the full context of news, advertisements and printed miscellany. At the wall’s midpoint, the papers begin to fan out like a skirt gently resting on a foundational layer of tightly packed balls of newsprint, covered in gold spray paint. Other gold embellishments across Bulemia add a regal touch to the minutiae of daily life that viewers encounter throughout the sprawling work.

 

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi, Bulemia, 1988, installation view, Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, November 21, 1988–January 8, 1989. Photo: Howard Ehrenfeld

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Poster announcing Senga Nengudi’s radio program Double Think Bulemia. Mouth to Mouth: Conversations on Being, December 1988. Courtesy the artist

Bulemia was first presented in 1988 at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore as part of Art as a Verb: The Evolving Continuum, an influential exhibition of thirteen African-American artists working outside the confines of traditional painting and sculpture. Accidentally discarded when that exhibition closed, the imposing work went unseen until it was recreated in 2018. Then, as now, the source of the papers is both Nengudi’s and her mother’s collection of newspaper spreads that over the years they found to be worth saving.

In this same period of the late 1980s, Nengudi had been developing a concept of “Bulemia” as a utopian state ruled by creative forces and Black voices. She produced a half-hour radio program, funded by National Public Radio, that she described as a “crazy-quilt of conversation and music” with words from fellow artists Charles Abramson, Carol Blank, John Outterbridge and Kaylynn Sullivan, as well as cameos by the likes of musicians Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor. “BULEMIA is not a disease but a state of mind,” the program’s poster announces, “used as a metaphor for exploring the nature of creativity.”

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Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi, Bulemia, 1988, installation view, Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, November 21, 1988–January 8, 1989. Photo: Howard Ehrenfeld

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Poster announcing Senga Nengudi’s radio program Double Think Bulemia. Mouth to Mouth: Conversations on Being, December 1988. Courtesy the artist

Details
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Bulemia was first presented in 1988 at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore as part of Art as a Verb: The Evolving Continuum, an influential exhibition of thirteen African-American artists working outside the confines of traditional painting and sculpture. Accidentally discarded when that exhibition closed, the imposing work went unseen until it was recreated in 2018. Then, as now, the source of the papers is both Nengudi’s and her mother’s collection of newspaper spreads that over the years they found to be worth saving.

In this same period of the late 1980s, Nengudi had been developing a concept of “Bulemia” as a utopian state ruled by creative forces and Black voices. She produced a half-hour radio program, funded by National Public Radio, that she described as a “crazy-quilt of conversation and music” with words from fellow artists Charles Abramson, Carol Blank, John Outterbridge and Kaylynn Sullivan, as well as cameos by the likes of musicians Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor. “BULEMIA is not a disease but a state of mind,” the program’s poster announces, “used as a metaphor for exploring the nature of creativity.”

The content of Nengudi’s installation Bulemia likewise attempts to flip a negative concept into a positive one. Interspersed with stories both momentous and mundane—as any newspaper issue will offer—news items relating to African Americans and Black subjects assert themselves through the artist’s deliberate selections, arrangements and sprayed zones of gilding. Her gold additions mask particular areas of the papers, focusing our attention on particular words, phrases, and images, many of which carry uplifting connotations: “See more love,” “just hold on.” Though Bulemia’s newspapers document historic tragedies such as HIV/AIDS and economic meltdowns, stories of Black artists, musicians, sportspeople and religious figures come to the fore, all of which ground the artist’s vision in reality while pointing toward a not-so-distant utopia where the fullness and ebullience of African-American life makes the headlines.

 

“We’re all part of the same tapestry. It’s important that we know as much as we can know, and be exposed to as much as possible, and be motivated, inspired, and show interest in something that’s beyond our own personal history.” – Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi – Senga Nengudi – Los Angeles

Senga Nengudi, Bulemia, 1988/2018 (detail). Photo: Robert Wedemeyer