Former instructor finds art in movement; exhibit brings out culture

Sept. 7, 2015

Rachel Librach
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Nylon: it’s a magazine, fabric and the sheer tights women wear under dresses, but who would expect it to be used for art?

From Aug. 28 to Dec. 5, GOCA 1420 will feature one of Senga Nengudi’s nylon creations in “Senga Nengudi: Improvisational Gestures.”

GOCA invited Nengudi, a contemporary artist and former UCCS VAPA instructor, back to UCCS to feature her art in an exhibit in honor of UCCS’ 50th anniversary.

Nengudi’s work during the ‘70s revolved around the revival of culture, incorporating stationary or everyday objects with human movement and dance. One common object she used is pantyhose, through which she tries to embody change, social constraints and flexibility.

“She uses pantyhose as a symbol in responding to the way, after she gave birth to her children, that her body changed and stretched,” said Daisy McConnell, GOCA art director.

“Pretty much all women in the ‘70s had to wear pantyhose and they were not the quality that they are now. They were pretty awful.”

“(Her art) was a response to that in a way, but it is also something kind of funny to look at and there is a humor there. Ultimately her work is inviting the viewer in to think about this common material – the pantyhose – in relation to their own body and their own experiences.”

The exhibit features still pictures and sculptures, but Nengudi created her art with several different mediums in mind.

“The goal of this experience is that you came in and you were able to see the sculptures and that they had enough space around them that you could really appreciate them,” McConnell said.

“We are looking at them very statically, but they were meant to be performed and stretched by herself and her collaborators. There is definitely an energy to see all her work together from all those different angles that she’s done over time.”

There was also a big call to revive the African-American culture in the ‘70s, which evolved into the Black Arts Movement. Nengudi’s art played a large role during the movement, illustrating the different dance styles, clothing and rituals.

“A lot of the work was political, and I think Senga’s work wasn’t seen as overtly political at the time, but if you think about it in terms of talking about the body and how important that is I think it is pretty powerfully political in retrospect, but still subtle,” McConnell said.

In recent years, Nengudi has been receiving international attention and has had her work displayed in several prominent museums in New York and Los Angeles. In addition, her work was featured at the Cube Gallery in London, a famous art gallery known for presenting work that is cutting edge.

Nengudi taught performance and sculpture at UCCS from 1998-2009.

One piece, entitled “Ceremony for Freeway Fets,” shows that Nengudi has called attention to how untraditional settings like under a freeway ramp can hold promise, originality and color.

“The pictures are illustrated very much in that Japanese Butoh style,” McConnell said.

According to, Butoh is a dance style created in Japan in the ‘60s. It involves slowly moving the body in a bent form for a “truthful, ritualistic and primal earthdance.”

The exhibit is free to all students and is open Wednesday through Saturday from 12-5 p.m.

The Lowdown

Senga Nengudi: Improvisational Gestures

Gallery of Contemporary Art 1420
Centennial Hall, Room 201

Aug. 28-Dec. 5

How much:
Free for students