Senga Nengudi: Experimenting from the Start

I’m just playing with this idea of expanding the way people think about things.

– Senga Nengudi, 2018

In1966, Senga Nengudi began her graduate studies in sculpture and dance at California State University in Los Angeles. However, many of her formative experiences were not based in academic training. A year prior, in the aftermath of the Watts racial uprisings, she became an art educator at the Watts Towers Arts Center, under Director Noah Purifoy. His work, as well as the architecture of the Watts Towers, would inform Nengudi's enduring interest in transforming found objects. Begun in 1921 by Simon Rodia, the Watts Towers—made with cement, broken glass, old ceramics, and other found objects built over thirty-year period—was a structural marvel that embodied the power of turning discarded or everyday objects into expressive material.

Early on she received dance training at the Lester Horton studio, where she experienced a choreographic approach that drew on diverse cultural dance traditions to create a new modern dance vocabulary. Nengudi also became an art instructor at the Pasadena Art Museum (PAM), where she encountered Happenings for the first time. These performances, often blending spontaneity and script, helped her conceive of her own work as an event or experience.

Senga Nengudi: Topologies is organized by the Lenbachhaus Munich, in cooperation with the DAM. Concept and idea by Stephanie Weber, Lenbachhaus. Funding is provided by the donors to the Annual Fund Leadership Campaign, and the residents who support the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD). Promotional support is provided by 5280 Magazine and CBS4.