Senga Nengudi, Henry Moore Institute
Senga Nengudi’s work is full of playfulness, underpinned by serious subject matter, including the struggles of womanhood, race relations and community cohesion. The sculptural pieces currently on display at the Henry Moore Institute span 50 years.
The first artwork on view upon entering the gallery, Untitled (Water Composition), comprises long and narrow heat sealed plastic sacks, filled with coloured water and presented on the floor. I am reminded of ice pops: their changing states, from liquid to solid; their tongue tinting colours and sticky, fun-time, artificiality. Originally created in the 1960’s and 70’s, these pieces have been remade for the exhibition at HMI.
Nuki Nuki: Across 118th St (1982/2014), is a response to the tumultuous nature of life in Harlem, New York, in the 1970’s and 80’s. Nengudi was based there at the time. The work is made of slats from a blind and nylon mesh. It hangs, hammock-like, looking half defeated but still intact. The appearance of fragility contradicting an inner, enduring toughness feels like something of a theme for Nengudi.
Nylon is again utilised in her ‘RSVP’ series (1977/2003). Nengudi creates artwork from tights, filling the ‘feet’ with sand, knotting the legs at the crotch and pinning pairs in overlapping arrangements. Tights are symbols of femininity, viewed at turns as both sexy and restrictive, pulling us in, smoothing us out and applying a synthetic sheen. Information provided at the gallery states Nengudi delighted in the realisation she could make art of out of something that can fit into her handbag, something everyday and throwaway.
There are wacky films of Nengudi and others ‘activating’ these pieces, though I enjoy the static versions. My imagination can finish the work, seeing people puzzling and pushing against the stretchy structures, simultaneously supported and entrapped.
Sandmining (2018) is an installation featuring dark sand, walked upon and spattered with paint pigment, in peaks and ridges. A couple of lengths of winding, rusty, steel pipe stick upright in this strange, post-apocalyptic scene. I think of sand, how it evolves, disperses and gathers. Here, I feel Nengudi again invites us to consider our personal and collective human processes, everything we go through and how it weathers us, yet we remain.