Senga Nengudi R.S.V.P. I 1977/2003

  • Not on view

R.S.V.P. I followed Nengudi’s first pregnancy and her experience of watching her changing body. “I am working with nylon mesh because it relates to the elasticity of the human body,” she explained. “From tender, tight beginnings to sagging… the body can only stand so much push and pull until it gives way, never to resume its original shape.” The sculptural installation debuted in 1977 at Just Above Midtown, a gallery that focused on work made by African American artists. During the exhibition, R.S.V.P. I functioned as a performative object for Nengudi and others, who would entangle themselves in its limb-like forms, stretching the pantyhose even further and reaching for the swollen pockets of sand.

Gallery label from 2019
Additional text

To create this work, the artist stretched out pantyhose and filled the fabric with sand. Her inspiration for creating the sculpture was how our bodies and minds change over time. Think about a time when your mind or body changed.

In the 1970s Nengudi staged performances with her artworks. She wanted people to respond to them with their bodies. Create a movement in response to this sculpture.

Kids label from 2022

Senga Nengudi began her career among a group of avant-garde Black artists active in Los Angeles and New York in the 1970s and 1980s. She also absorbed influences from feminism, African and Japanese dance, music, and religious rituals, which continue to shape her installations, performances, sculptures, and collaborative works. Her works are composed of an evocative mix of natural and synthetic materials, often crafted into forms to be worn, touched, and used by Nengudi and the other performers who bring her work to life.

Among Nengudi’s early projects is her R.S.V.P. series, which she debuted in 1977 at Just Above Midtown (JAM), a pioneering art space in Manhattan representing work by African American and other artists of color. It consists of previously worn, dark-hued pantyhose partially knotted into pendulous, sand-filled sacks, then stretched and tethered to the wall in various changing arrangements. Though they stand alone as sculptural installations, these arrangements also serve as sites for performances by Nengudi and others. Entangled within their taught lines and bulging forms, the performers bend, reach, and pose, tugging on the pantyhose and stretching them further, or pushing around their ample sand pockets. Such actions reflect Nengudi’s grounding in dance, which is integral to her work. “The movement of the body through space has been an important component of my art practice,” she has said.

R.S.V.P. grew out of Nengudi’s reflections upon the changes her body underwent during her first pregnancy, and, more generally, upon the shared experience of womanhood. With their bulbous, sand-filled forms, the pantyhose evoke what the artist describes as the elasticity of the body. “I am working with nylon mesh because it relates to the elasticity of the human body,” she explained. “From tender, tight beginnings to sagging…the body can only stand so much push and pull until it gives way, never to resume its original shape.” Nengudi sees the female psyche, on the other hand, as more resilient, and aims to reflect this quality in the work as well. Like the pantyhose, the “psyche can stretch, stretch, stretch and come back into shape.”

Pantyhose and sand, 10 pieces
Overall dimensions variable
Committee on Painting and Sculpture Funds, and The Friends of Education of The Museum of Modern Art
Object number
Painting and Sculpture

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