Senga Nengudi wrote this essay specifically for the African American Performance Art Archive in 2009.
Maren and Me
Maren Hassinger and I met in the mid ‘70’s. We were part of a wonderfully loose knit group (network) of Black artists in Los Angeles. Some known better than others-such as; Betye Saar and our peer Suzanne Jackson, the first Black woman to own and run a fine arts gallery, Gallery 32.
Suzanne was also connected with the CETA program, which was sponsored by Brockman Gallery. Brockman Gallery was the first successfully run Black Art Gallery in Los Angeles owned by Alonzo Davis. The CETA program was a federally funded Arts program, a 1970’s WPA of which both Maren and I were a part.
A true friendship developed as we discovered that we had in common sculpture, a dance background and a need to play out conceptual ideas through sculpture and performance art.
Hardly supported by our white contemporaries, including the women’s movement, we set out on our own with other friends and colleagues to explore and play out our mind sketches. David Hammons and Houston Conwill were a part of that grouping. But more consistently it was the trio of myself, Maren and sculptor Franklin Parker. We simply called him Parker. At points we became a quartet with video artist Ulysses Jenkins.
We would meet in different spaces around LA-empty amphitheatres, empty swimming pools, abandon buildings, parks, construction sites and gardens and perform and play out our concepts. Then we would return to our separate studios charged up by our encounters.
At that point both Maren and I were married. I was married with children. Maren was married and wanting children. She and her husband Peter were blessed with children just shortly after moving to New York.
Having separate careers and locations we continued on with our lives touching base, keeping in contact throughout. What was added, as a commonality was the weight of family and how to keep a career going with the joys and complications that a family brings.
In 1991 after moving from LA to Colorado Springs, Co. I abruptly became a part of the sandwich generation when my Mother had a massive paralyzing stroke and I became a caregiver as well as a wife, Mom and artist.
Continuing my career seemed to be near to impossible. My connection with Maren became very important. Performance concepts became a shorthand way of doing my art. We would chat by phone conjuring up all sorts of grand themes and theories.
Shortly after that Maren’s 25 year marriage went south. Left with trying to find a means of starting a new life and a way of caring for her children she secured a position as the Director of the Graduate Sculpture department at Maryland Institute, College of Art.
This is a position she holds to this day.
Our conversations became once again critically important. We were dealing with our creative survival. As my Mother past in 2004 Maren began her turn as caregiver when she had to take her Mother into her home, a victim of severe dementia. Her Mom passed about a year about (2008?)
We have in development a lecture tour explaining and showing our work, correspondence history and survival techniques for staying whole and creative. Through it all our friendship and support still prevails.