Senga Nengudi (b. 1943) is a truly multidisciplinary artist whose career has covered dance, sculpture, installation, video, text and performance. In the mid-1970s, Nengudi was one of the first artists—along with David Hammons, Lorraine O’Grady and Houston Conwill—to exhibit at the Just Above Midtown Gallery, the first African-American owned and operated gallery in New York. Yet Nengudi was both a key part of and a foil to the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 70s. Nengudi’s challenging work has always been international in scope—absorbing aesthetic lessons from Brazil, Japan and west Africa—and much of her conceptual practice has yet to be unpacked.
In the summer of 2008, the Studio Museum presented R.S.V.P., an innovative exhibition series that paired the work of an artist in our permanent collection with new work by another artist, created specifically for the exhibition. Fittingly, the inaugural exhibition featured R.S.V.P. V (1976) by Senga Nengudi, from her series of nylon mesh sculptures, “Répondez s’ il vous plaît.” Nengudi created these works, also known as “panty hose pieces,” as reflections and expressions of the elasticity and malleability of women’s bodies.
Former artist in residence Rashawn Griffin created a new work in response to Nengudi’s R.S.V.P. Griffin’s work, like Nengudi’s, is marked by emotional use of humble materials, such as food and fiber. Both artists are deeply invested in creating objects from an abstract or concrete art tradition. R.S.V.P. is designed to encourage fresh thinking about contemporary art objects with lasting resonance. While nodding to the cultural moment of Nengudi’s panty hose pieces, this project evokes thought about the formal and conceptual longevity of R.S.V.P. V, and what makes her work relevant and prescient in 2008.