Walking into this exhibition your first impression is that it is hieratic African Sculpture made of wood (image 1). Move closer and you find that it consists predominantly of stretched fabric, usually stockings, which have sometimes been filled with sand, and large vinyl sachets, filled with viscous bright coloured gloop. The effect is highly tactile: it makes you want to poke and squeeze.
Senga Nengudi (born 1943) has a long and distinguished track record, without perhaps quite achieving the international recognition she deserves. Trained as a dancer and a sculptor, she cut her teeth in the innovative and collaborative arena of Black art in LA and New York in the early seventies.
‘Performative’ is the term which keeps cropping up in the writing. It is a term which gained currency in feminist theory in the nineties and was used in relation to gender. In the case of Nengudi’s work it is most apparent in the dramatic context and concentration on movement which is a preoccupation throughout.
The photographs are what I like best in this show. We have no idea what is going on in them but the figures in the white boiler suits are all intent on what they are doing. And we find ourselves perplexed but attracted to these mysterious and beautiful images.
I would like to see a much bigger show of Senga Nengudi, with lots of videos, which might help us get a more coherent picture of her concerns.
Senga Nengudi is at Sprüth Magers, 7A Grafton Street, London W1S4EJ until September 8