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Summer exhibitions at the Henry: Senga Nengudi and Museum of Transgender History and Art
Press preview for "Sega Nengudi: Improvisational Gestures." Photo: Henry Art Gallery.

SEATTLE, WA.- This summer, the Henry offers a career survey of artist Senga Nengudi and a new project from the Museum of Transgender Hirstory & Art.

Senga Nengudi: Improvisational Gestures
July 16 – October 9, 2016

Improvisational Gestures surveys the sculpture, performance, video, and related work of American artist Senga Nengudi (born 1943). Working in Los Angeles in the 1970s, Nengudi developed a singular style melding the body in movement with the use of common, everyday materials in a series of collaborative performances with her artist peers, including Maren Hassinger, Ulysses Jenkins, Franklin Parker, Houston Conwill, David Hammons, and Barbara McCullough.

Her approach to art has been inspired by the improvisational qualities of jazz and ritualistic performances from a wide range of sources including traditional African ceremonies, Japanese Kabuki Theater, events of the 1960s, and other forms of modern dance. In the past fifteen years, she has used video to extend her performance-related interests by exploring the ritual quality of textile production and repetitive physical labor.

Nengudi is perhaps best known for her abstract sculpture, particularly her biomorphic nylon mesh series R.S.V.P. (1975 to the present). These sculptures are made from pantyhose that the artist stretches, twists, knots, and fills with sand and other found materials. The works evoke the human body, its elasticity and durability, and invite viewers to imagine their own bodies stretching in unexpected ways. Some of the sculptures have been engaged by the artist and other performers through dance-like movements that entangle their bodies in the materials.

MOTHA and Chris E. Vargas present: Trans Hirstory in 99 Objects
August 13, 2016 – June 4, 2017

An ongoing series of exhibitions organized by Chris E. Vargas, Executive Director of the Museum of Transgender Hirstory & Art, Trans Hirstory in 99 Objects, gathers archival materials and works by contemporary artists that narrate the history of transgender communities.

This presentation focuses on lives and experiences specific to Seattle and the greater Pacific Northwest, including Nell Pickerall (also known as Harry Allen and Harry Livingston [1882-1922]), and Marsha Botzer, transgender activist and founder of Ingersoll Gender Center (1979); and places such as The Garden of Allah, a popular post-war social gathering space known for its female impersonator cabaret acts.

By bringing together these materials, Trans Hirstory in 99 Objects reclaims stories from the past that tell a history of gender variance and draws lines of kinship across time, while simultaneously pointing to the incomplete nature of this history, including the stories that we will never know because they were not preserved or never told (but should have been).

The Museum of Transgender Hirstory & Art is an imaginary museum conceived by Vargas in 2013 with the mission to bring a cohesive visual history of transgender culture into existence. By design, MOTHA is always “under construction,” a framework that openly questions how a history of transgender individuals, communities, and culture might be organized, and also the relevance of constructing a history around an identity category that is evolving and often contested. MOTHA takes form as temporary autonomous events, from performance and panel discussion to exhibitions.

Trans Hirstory in 99 Objects was inspired by the Smithsonian’s book History of America in 101 Objects, which in turn was inspired by A History of The World in 100 Objects, a joint project of the BBC and the British Museum. Vargas’s project takes a critical view of these structures, their institutional function, and history-making in general, reconsidering how transgender people are remembered and recorded.

Chris E. Vargas (U.S., born 1978) is a video maker and interdisciplinary artist based in Bellingham, WA, who received his MFA in the Department of Art Practice at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2011. In collaboration with Greg Youmans, he created the web-based trans/cisgender sitcom Falling In Love . . . with Chris and Greg (2008–2013). With Eric Stanley, Vargas co-directed the films Homotopia (2006) and Criminal Queers (2015).

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