Date of Award

December 2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Art History

First Advisor

Jennifer Johung

Committee Members

Katherine Wells


Abject, Awkward, Diversity, Exhibition, Inclusion, Witness


Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion (DEAI) have become popular topics in today’s increasingly divisive and political climate. This thesis investigates how the abject in art challenges social structures and institutional norms through an analysis of the interdisciplinary work of Senga Nengudi. While this conversation has been started by Leticia Alvarado regarding the work of Ana Mendieta, there is no scholarship on the more specific ways that Nengudi’s work employs the concept of Blackness itself as abject. This gap in literature is not only a disservice to the work of Nengudi, but also to scholars and institutions that aim to understand how incorporating non-traditional art into exhibition spaces can open up DEAI conversations.

This project will analyze Nengudi’s work Nuki Nuki: Across 118th Street as exhibited in both the 1980 exhibition Dialectics of Isolation and its 2018 retrospective exhibition Dialectics of Entanglement. The theory of abjection will then be analyzed through the scholarly work of Julia Kristeva, Leticia Alvarado, and Saidiya Hartman. Finally, a review of the 2020 virtual programming titled (At Home) On Art and Collaboration: Artist Talk with Maren Hassinger and Senga Nengudi will explore how the abject has the power to create feelings of awkwardness, in turn challenging the viewer to self-reflect. In conclusion, it is through the use of the abject that the work of Senga Nengudi navigates the complexities of subject position to engage diverse audiences and demand for increased acceptance in the face of heterogeneity – on not only an individual level, but also institutionally.