Senga Nengudi has been a vanguard of contemporary performance art since the 1970s, when she exhibited at the Just Above Midtown Gallery with Houstan Conwill, David Hammons, Lorraine O’Grady. Confounding the barriers between the art of performance, dance, sculpture, and installation, she interjects herself as a third term in the relationship between space and found objects to explore the possibilities of each. In so doing, Nengudi brings viewers into hybrid environments that disengage them from the practices of everyday experience and compel a new look at items both mundane and exotic.
Performances take place in galleries, of course, but she also stages events in poetry, film, and audio. Recently, she has created a variety of identities, each of which produces a specific creative enterprise. There are Propecia Leigh, Photographer; Harriet Chin, Painter; and Lily Bea Moor, Writer. As Nengudi explains, each name has personal and cultural significance.
Born in Chicago, Nengudi grew up in California where she stayed to study art and dance at CSU in Los Angeles. She travelled to Japan after graduating where she was exposed to the Guttai performance groups whose multi-media techniques would later inform her work. Reflecting her desire to interact with the public, Nengudi worked first as a teacher in the arts before moving to Harlem in 1971. There she took part in a community of African-American artists who explored the boundaries of African and American cultures and philosophies.
Now an instructor at the University of Colorado, Nengudi is represented by the Thomas Erben Gallery in New York City. She divided her time between caring for her family, her relationships with loved ones, and her art-making. Nengudi’s performances and exhibits appear nationally and internationally.
For her innovative efforts and commitment to feminist educaton, Nengudi has received numerous awards since 2000. The Women’s Caucus for Art named her recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for 2010. In 2005, she garnered both the Anonymous Was a Woman Award and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award.
by Diane Woodin