In between degrees Senga Nengudi studies for one year at Waseda University in Tokyo, inspired by the Gutai artists.
Since we weren’t accepted by, particularly, the mainstream art world, we had to create our own world and be very supportive of our own processes and concepts. And so we just kind of developed this friendship-family situation because we shared similar ideas. And part of that came out of our interest with Sun Ra, the musician, who actually is from Chicago. And his idea of total theater, I guess you might say—music, dance— he would have videos in his presentations.
Senga Nengudi receives her MA in sculpture from Cal State LA.
Senga Nengudi organizes the performance Ceremony for Freeway Fets underneath a freeway overpass on Pico Boulevard near the Los Angeles Convention Center. The performance is supported by a Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) grant and sponsored by Brockman Gallery Productions and the California Department of Transportation. As a part of Studio Z, David Hammons participates.
In the late 1970s, there was a program that was put into place by the federal government, which was to employ unemployed artists. And in California, in Los Angeles, the liaison agency was Brockman Gallery. And Brockman Gallery was one of the few black galleries in Los Angeles. And although it was a black gallery, there were maybe about, let’s say 10 artists in the program, and it was a very diverse set of artists. And so each one of us was given the task to create a public artwork in a public space. And so I chose under the freeway on Pico Boulevard, and that’s just very close to the Los Angeles Convention Center. And the reason I chose that was because that area itself was very diverse. The first peoples, Native Americans were there. Many of them had lived on the res, and as they were incorporating themselves into the community, that was where they would go. There was a lot of support there. Latinos, Asian-Americans, as well as immigrants from Vietnam. It was just really quite rich. And so I really wanted to have that be the place that I would have it, and it was very—I don’t know, in a sense, even though it was cement, the ground was dirt, and now I went back to that space, and it’s all cemented over. But at that point, it reminded me of Africa. It had little, tiny palm trees, and it was a lot of dirt, and it had the columns, which were very powerful. And there were—there was the energy of humans there. Because of the way this area was structured, there was like a shelf between the freeway itself and just underneath the freeway. And so a lot of homeless people would live there because they were protected, and it was very—almost ancient way of survival.
You know, where I’m from now, there were cliff dwellings, Native American cliff dwellings, because when you’re up above stuff, you’re protected from what’s going on. So it’s a very safe place in a sense, and they were there, you know, at night, and there were little fire—remnants of fires where they kept themselves warm. So there was an energy already infused in that particular area. And so that’s where I chose to have it. And I called upon my brothers and sisters and told them that I wanted to do this piece under the freeway because it was actually a public art piece. But the Freeway Fets was a ceremony. It was an opening up; it was a christening of the piece that I did in that area.