Senga Nengudi's performance-based sculptures and installations explore aspects of the human body in relation to ritual, philosophy, and spirituality. In the 1960s and 1970s, Nengudi's avant-garde work helped bring traditional African forms into the mix of Western modernism. Sculptures like these were first created in the 1970s, and they synthesize Nengudi's unique formal language of movement and improvisation with her interest in materials that she finds at hand. Nengudi coaxes form out of ordinary nylon stockings by pulling, twisting, and knotting them to create pendulous sacks or tautly outstretched limbs. These bulging, stretched, anthropomorphized abstractions, in tones that approximate of the colors of flesh, suggest the resilience of the human body. Like molted snakeskins, they retain the "residue" of the body and the "energy" of the wearer, suggesting the fragility and sensuality of flesh itself.
Sand Mind, Nengudi's latest work, is on view at the foot of the Grand Staircase (19b). A sand painting, it investigates this medium's cross-cultural commonalities among Tibetan mandalas, Navajo sand paintings, and Australian Aboriginal ground paintings. For Nengudi, the floor-based design symbolizes the earth itself; the creative process is a form of meditation; the sand's ephemeral nature, a metaphor for the impermanence of life.