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Senga Nengudi papers

Identifier: 794

Processing Information

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services award MH-245560-OMS-20.

Content Description

Senga Nengudi papers compile records reflecting more than fifty years of Nengudi’s career and personal life. 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 “respondez 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 and 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 performances 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). Paintings, photographs, drawings and poetry by Nengudi under the pseudonyms Harriet Chin, Propecia Lee and Lily Bea Moor, as well as transcripts of interviews with Nengudi, are also available within the papers. Lastly, one original charcoal drawing by Senga Nengudi completes the collection.


  • 1952-2021, undated


Conditions Governing Access

The Senga Nengudi papers are open and available for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright to these papers has not been assigned to the Amistad Research Center. It is the responsibility of an author to secure permission for publication from the holder of the copyright to any material contained in this collection.

Biographical / Historical

Sendga Nengudi (1943- ), visual and performance artist, arts educator and Black avant-garde artist in 1960s and 1970s Los Angeles and New York City.

Senga Nengudi, born Sue Irons on September 18, 1943, is a visual artist notable for her work in sculpture and performance. She was born in Chicago, Illinois, but grew up in California with her mother from the age of seven. 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’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 a woman’s body is stretched and transformed by pressure from pregnancy, and metaphorically, a symbol of a women’s persona. 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.

Additionally, many of Nengudi’s contributions to art history center around her passion for education and art. As an artist, Nengudi received the Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award (2010), Anonymous Was a Woman Award (2005-2006), and Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Competition Award (2005-2006). She received an Art Matters grant and served as artist-in-residence at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (2005-2006). Nengudi is strongly committed to arts education, serving as a retired educator at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS) Visual Arts and Performing Arts Department and continuing to be actively involved with arts programs emphasizing diversity in the community.

As a dancer and sculptor, Nengudi’s inspiration for art evolved from a wide range of sources including African and Japanese cultural traditions. When Sue Irons returned to Los Angeles in 1974 from Japan, she changed her name to Senga Nengudi. “Senga” means “listen” or “hear” in Duala, and “Nengudi” translates to “a woman who comes to power as a traditional healer.” She approached the artform of dance and sculpture inspired by the ritualistic performances of traditional African ceremonies, Japanese Kabuki theater, cultural and political events from the 1960s, such as the civil rights movement and the Black Arts Movement, and other forms of modern dance. In essence, Nengudi’s exposure to Japanese culture and other international cultures is evident in her exhibitions, artwork and performances.

In addition to her myriad art curations, installations, sculptures and performances, Nengudi created art paintings and photography, and wrote poetry. She has created poetry and photography using the pseudonym Lily B. Moor. Nengudi also uses different names, all of which have a personal thread to them, for each medium: Propecia Leigh as a photographer; Harriet Chin as a painter; and Lily Bea Moor as a writer. Her aim is to encourage people to look at things differently and to respond to the work as activations in itself.

Senga Nengudi currently resides in Colorado.


14.59 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift, Senga Nengudi

Condition Description

Good condition.

Senga Nengudi papers
Felicia D. Render, Brenda Flora, Khalif Birden, and Lerin Williams
June 2022
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Amistad Research Center Repository

6823 Saint Charles Avenue
Tilton Hall, Tulane University
New Orleans LA 70118 US
(504) 862-3222