Jump to content

Laura Aguilar

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Laura Aguilar
Born(1959-10-26)October 26, 1959
DiedApril 25, 2018(2018-04-25) (aged 58)
Notable work
  • Three Eagles Flying
  • The Plush Pony Series
  • Clothed/Unclothed

Laura Aguilar (October 26, 1959 – April 25, 2018) was an American photographer. She was born with auditory dyslexia and attributed her start in photography to her brother, who showed her how to develop in dark rooms.[1] She was mostly self-taught, although she took some photography courses at East Los Angeles College, where her second solo exhibition, Laura Aguilar: Show and Tell, was held.[2] Aguilar used visual art to bring forth marginalized identities, especially within the LA Queer scene and Latinx communities. Before the term Intersectionality was used commonly, Aguilar captured the largely invisible identities of large bodied, queer, working-class, brown people in the form of portraits. Often using her naked body as a subject, she used photography to empower herself and her inner struggles to reclaim her own identity as "Laura" – a lesbian, fat, disabled, and brown person.[3] Although work on Chicana/os is limited, Aguilar has become an essential figure in Chicano art history and is often regarded as an early "pioneer of intersectional feminism" for her outright and uncensored work.[4] Some of her most well-known works are Three Eagles Flying, The Plush Pony Series, and Nature Self Portraits. Aguilar has been noted for her collaboration with cultural scholars such as Yvonne Yarbo-Berjano and receiving inspiration from other artists like Judy Dater.[5] She was well known for her portraits, mostly of herself, and also focused upon people in marginalized communities, including LGBT and Latino subjects, self-love, and social stigma of obesity.


Aguilar was the daughter of a first-generation Mexican-American father. Her mother is of mixed Mexican and Irish heritage.[1] She had auditory dyslexia and developed an early interest in photography as a medium.[1] She attended Schurr High School in Montebello, California. In 1987, during a high school photography class, she met Gil Cuadros, a Mexican-American poet who was diagnosed with AIDS.[6] Cuadros would accompany Aguilar to Downtown Los Angeles for pictures.

Aguilar was active as a photographer beginning in the 1980s.[7] She was mainly self-taught, although she studied for a time at East Los Angeles Community College and participated in The Friends of Photography Workshop and Santa Fe Photographic Workshop.[8]

Aguilar worked primarily in the genre of portraiture. Her work centers on the human form[1] and challenges contemporary social constructs of beauty, focusing upon Latina lesbians, black people, and the fat.[9] According to critics, she often used self-portraiture to come to terms with her own body as she challenged societal norms of sexuality, class, gender, and race.[10][11] In her series Stillness (1996–99), Motion (1999) and Center (2001), she, according to critics, fused portraiture with the genres of landscape and still life.[1] Aguilar stated that her artistic goal was "to create photographic images that compassionately render the human experience, revealed through the lives of individuals in the lesbian/gay and/or persons of color communities."[12]

Aguilar's works have appeared in more than 50 national and international exhibitions,[13] including the 1993 Venice Biennial, Italy; the Los Angeles City Hall Bridge Gallery, the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE), the Los Angeles Photography Center, the Women's Center Gallery at the University of California in Santa Barbara,[14][15] and Artpace's exhibit Visibilities: Intrepid Women of Artpace.[16][17] She was a 2000 recipient of an Anonymous Was A Woman Award and the James D. Phelan Award in photography in 1995.[18] She had her first retrospective at the Vincent Price Art Museum at East Los Angeles College as part of the Pacific Standard Time LA/LA series of exhibitions in 2017–18.[19] The exhibition also made stops in Miami, FL at the Frost Art Museum and the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, IL.[20] It opened at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art in New York in spring 2021.[21]


Aguilar died of complications from diabetes in a Long Beach, California nursing home, Colonial Care Center, at the age of 58.[22]


Her work is held in a number of public collections, including those at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, Indiana University, Bloomington; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City; and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York City.[23][24][25]


Nudes and Self Portraits Much of Aguilar's work is self-portraiture in the nude, these series include Stillness, Window (Nikki on My Mind), Motion[26], Grounded,[27] Center[28] and Nature Self-Portraits[29]

Nudes in Nature[edit]

Much of Aguilar's work uses the nude female form being blended into different landscapes. Some of her most notable pieces such as Nature Self-Portraits, Grounded, and Center "fuse" female bodies into desert landscapes as "an integral part of [the] ecosystem".[30][31] In 1996, Aguilar and fellow photographer, Delilah Montoya created the series of nudes in nature titled Nature Self-Portraits "on a road trip through New Mexico" where Aguilar found herself pushing the boundaries of her art.[32] Not only were the subject's nude, but they were large-bodied and brown- bodies that art historians state "would have never been included in modernists photography".[4] Subjects reflected the shape of rocks, trees, and water making their body a part of the land.[3] Through the "projection of her body", Aguilar forces viewers to acknowledge her and rejects the "parameters of what is accepted as...normal, appealing", and "attractive".[33][30] By placing herself out front in nature, the viewer is asked to see her body for its beauty outside of conventional standards. Scholars contend that Aguilar "challenges the idea of the female nude-one of the most important genres in western art" by using atypical bodies.[4] The desert, specifically the San Gabriel Valley, represented a homeland for Aguilar stating, "My mom grew up here...my grandmother grew up here, This was my playground".[3] Aguilar's self-acceptance in nature came from her sense of connection to the land. Curator Pilar Thompkins Rivas reflected on the relationship between Aguilar and the outdoors stating "feeling the sun on her body was important to her...because she did noy get a lot of touch in her life".[34] This interaction between subject and landscape opens up different context and "new subjectivity" for Chicana/os to be represented in.[35]

Clothed/ Unclothed Series (1990-1994)[36] A series of diptychs depicting a range of subjects including people from LGBT, straight, Latino and black communities. The first photograph shows the subjects clothed and the second unclothed.

In Sandy's Room 1989 is a self-portrait.[37] It shows Laura laying back in a chair in front of an open window.

Three Eagles Flying 1990 is a triptych.[38] At the center, Aguilar is bound by ropes with the Mexican flag wrapped around her head and the American flag wrapped around her hips. The eagle of the Mexican flag covers her face.[39] The panel on her left is a photo of the Mexican flag and on her right is the American flag.

Latina Lesbian Series 1986-1990[40] is a series of black and white portraits of lesbian women mostly commissioned by Yolanda Retter sponsored by Connexxus.[41] Underneath each portrait are handwritten notes from the women in the photos.

Plush Pony Series 1992 is Aguilar's attempt to show all sides of the Latina Lesbian community. Aguilar set up in the East Los Angeles lesbian bar called The Plush Pony and took photographs of the patrons creating a series of black and white portraits of the lower working class community.[13][42]

Aguilar turned the camera on herself after documenting the community she found herself in- the queer Latinx scene in East Los Angeles. It was the early 1990s when Aguilar alone took black and white portraits at a "lesbian bar in the Los Angeles Neighborhood of El Sereno" called the Plush Pony.[43] The series was created in a "built in studio" in the bar showcasing a "range of butch/femme couples, gay men, gender-queer bodies, and combinations thereof" that made up the queer and immigrant community of Los Angeles.[43]

Aguilar was an introvert and had a difficult time recruiting subjects stating, "I was nervous at first to talk to the women in the bar. They seemed tough", but her camera helped her get over this and connect with the social scene.[43] Aguilar remarks that she "used [her] camera as way to approach people and as a way to get over my hesitation" resulting in lifelong friendships between herself and her subjects.[43] This work differed from the brown and queer photographic archive of the time because the relationship between artists and subject was blurred. Aguilar was not documenting marginalized people but was instead capturing the life of her community. From this perspective, Aguilar captures the varying compositions of "pleasure, community and friendship" though the lens of gender, race, sexuality, and class.[43] Like the Latina Lesbian series (1985-1991), the Plush Pony series became an expression and "living documentation of queer brown networks".

Critical reception[edit]

Critics and scholars closely identify Aguilar's work with Chicana feminism; one writer observes that "Aguilar consciously moves away from the societally normative images of Chicana female bodies and disassociates them from male-centered nostalgia or idealizations."[44] Chon A. Noriega, director of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, notes that Aguilar is unusual for the way she "collaborates with subjects who are her peers so that her works are not about power differentials between photographer and subject as is often, if implicitly the case with ... the social documentary tradition itself".[45] In referencing Aguilar's work Three Eagles Flying, Charlene Villasenor Black, a professor at UCLA who teaches Aguilar's work in both her art history and Chicanx studies courses, says, "[Aguilar] challenges the idea of the female nude—one of the most important genres in Western art—as the passive object of the male gaze. It's very clear that she's aware of the tradition, and she's able to repeat certain elements from the canon in such a way that shows us how unstable that meaning is and to question these essentialized ideas about women."[20] Her more recent self-portraits, according to critics, navigate her personal intersection of identities as Latina, lesbian, dyslexic, and fat.[28] Her best-known series is often considered to be Latina Lesbians, (1986–89)[1] which she started in order to help show a positive image of Latina lesbians for a mental health conference.[12] Other popular works include Clothed/Unclothed (1990–94), Plush Pony (1992), and Grounded (2006–07), with the latter being her first body of work done in color.[27] Reviewer A. M. Rousseau notes: "[Aguilar] makes public what is most private. By this risky act she transgresses familiar images of representation of the human body and replaces stereotypes with images of self-definition. She reclaims her body for herself."[11]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Leimer, Ann Marie (2008). "Chicana Photography: The Power of Place". National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Annual Conference. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  2. ^ "Laura Aguilar Show and Tell". UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. 24 March 2017.
  3. ^ a b c Uszerowicz, Monica (2018-04-26). "Remembering Photographer Laura Aguilar's Empathetic, Queer Art". Hyperallergic. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  4. ^ a b c Durón, Maximilíano (2018-04-25). "Laura Aguilar, Compassionate Photographer of Marginalized Groups, Dies at 58". ARTnews.com. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  5. ^ "Laura Aguilar Photographs in Focus: Latina Lesbians | Smithsonian American Art Museum". americanart.si.edu. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  6. ^ "Andy Campbell on Laura Aguilar". www.artforum.com. January 2018. Retrieved 2019-03-19.
  7. ^ Haggerty, George E.; Zimmerman, Bonnie (2000). Encyclopedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories and Cultures. Taylor & Francis. p. 65. ISBN 9780815333548.
  8. ^ "Aguilar, Laura". Social Networks and Archival Context Project. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  9. ^ Lopez, Alma. "Queer Arts in Los Angeles: Laura Aguilar". almalopez.com.
  10. ^ Smith, Sidonie Ann; Watson, Julia Anne (2002). Interfaces: Women, Autobiography, Image, Performance. University of Michigan Press. p. 69. ISBN 0472068148.
  11. ^ a b Rojas, Maythee (2009). Women of Color and Feminism. Basic Books. p. 130. ISBN 9781580053259.
  12. ^ a b "Laura Aguilar - Statement". www.cla.purdue.edu. Retrieved 2017-02-08.
  13. ^ a b "Biography of Laura Aguilar". Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. Retrieved 2015-03-10.
  14. ^ Fuller, Diana Burgess; Salvioni, Daniela (2002). Art, Women, California 1950-2000: Parallels and Intersections. University of California Press. p. 254. ISBN 9780520230668. Laura Aguilar.
  15. ^ Ruiz, Vicki L.; Korrol, Virginia Sánchez (2006). Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia. Indiana University Press. p. 64. ISBN 0253111692.
  16. ^ "Virtual Tour – Visibilities: Intrepid Women of Artpace » Artpace". artpace.org. 21 April 2020. Retrieved 2020-05-23.
  17. ^ Martin, Deborah (2020-01-10). "Artpace in San Antonio devoting 25th anniversary to works by women". ExpressNews.com. Retrieved 2020-05-23.
  18. ^ Bright, Deborah (1998). The Passionate Camera: Photography and Bodies of Desire. Psychology Press. ISBN 978-0-415-14582-4.
  19. ^ "Laura Aguilar: Show and Tell" (PDF). Vincent Price Art Museum. September 1, 2017. Retrieved April 26, 2018.
  20. ^ a b Durón, Maximilíano (2020-04-24). "Laura Aguilar's Lasting Legacy: How the World Caught Up to the Pioneering Photographer". ARTnews.com. Retrieved 2020-05-23.
  21. ^ Cotter, Holland (22 April 2021). "She Turned Her Audacious Lens on Herself, and Shaped the Future". The New York Times.
  22. ^ Miranda, Carolina A. (April 25, 2018). "Photographer Laura Aguilar, chronicler of the body and Chicano identity, dies at 58". Los Angeles Times.
  23. ^ "Laura Aguilar: LACMA Collections". collections.lacma.org. Retrieved 2016-04-10.
  24. ^ "Laura Aguilar". The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Retrieved 2016-04-10.
  25. ^ "Laura Aguilar: Whitney Museum of American Art". Whitney Museum of American Art.
  26. ^ Shackleton, Mark (2008). Diasporic Literature and Theory. Cambridge Scholars. p. 162.
  27. ^ a b Luciano, Dana; Chen, Mel (2015). "Has the Queer ever been Human?" (PDF). GLQ. 21 (2–3): 183–186. doi:10.1215/10642684-2843215.
  28. ^ a b Ressler, Susan. "Women Artists of the American West: Lesbian Photography on the U.S. West Coast 1972-1997". Women Artists of the American West. Purdue University, West Lafayette, India. Retrieved 2015-03-10.
  29. ^ Aguilar, Laura (Summer 2015). "Human Nature" (PDF). Boom: A Journal of California. 5 (2): 22–27. doi:10.1525/boom.2015.5.2.22.
  30. ^ a b FOSTER, DAVID WILLIAM (2017). Picturing the Barrio: Ten Chicano Photographers. University of Pittsburgh Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctt1pwtcjz. ISBN 978-0-8229-6439-1. JSTOR j.ctt1pwtcjz.
  31. ^ Fragoza, Carribean. "The River Remembers Laura Aguilar | Aperture | Winter 2021". Aperture | The Complete Archive. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  32. ^ "Vincent Price Art Museum | Exhibitions | Laura Aguilar: Show and Tell". vincentpriceartmuseum.org. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  33. ^ Jones, A (1998). "Bodies and Subjects in the Technologized Self-Portraits: The Work of Laura Aguilar". Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies. 23: 203–219. doi:10.1525/azt.1998.23.2.203.
  34. ^ "Laura Aguilar Paintings, Bio, Ideas". The Art Story. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  35. ^ Segura, Denise A. (January 2001). "Challenging the Chicano Text: Toward a More Inclusive Contemporary Causa". Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 26 (2): 541–550. doi:10.1086/495605. ISSN 0097-9740. S2CID 145021721.
  36. ^ Fuller, Diana (2002). Fuller, Diana Burgess; Salvioni, Daniela (2002). Art, Women, California 1950-2000: Parallels and Intersections. University of California Press. pp. 254. ISBN 9780520230668.
  37. ^ Patricia, Valladolid (2008-05-01). "The Private and the Public in the Photography of Laura Aguilar - eScholarship".
  38. ^ Davis, Angela (2005). Beyond the Frame: Women of Color and Visual Representation. PALGRAVE MACMILLAN™. pp. 208–216. ISBN 1-4039-6533-1.
  39. ^ Foster, David William (2017). Picturing the Barrio: Ten Chicano Photographers. University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 76. ISBN 978-0-8229-8238-8. JSTOR j.ctt1pwtcjz.8.
  40. ^ Di Certo, Alice (2006-06-09). "The Unconventional Photographic Self-Portraits of John Coplans, Carla Williams, and Laura Aguilar".
  41. ^ Zepeda, Susy (2012). Tracing Queer Latina Diasporas: Escarvando Historical Narratives Of Ancestries And Silences (PDF) (PhD dissertation). UC Santa Cruz. pp. 200–202.
  42. ^ Miranda, Carolina A. (November 3, 2017). "Stories of the Plush Pony: Artist Laura Aguilar's portraits capture a lost era at a working-class lesbian bar". Los Angeles Times.
  43. ^ a b c d e Gómez-Barris, Macarena. "The Plush View: Makeshift Sexualities and Laura Aguilar's Forbidden Archives". Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A.
  44. ^ Perez, Daniel (2013). "Chicana Aesthtics: A View of Unconcealed Alterities and Affirmations of Chicana Identity through Laura Aguilar's Photographic Images". LUX: A Journal of Transdisciplinary Writing and Research from Claremont Graduate University. 2: 1–8. doi:10.5642/lux.201301.22. Retrieved 2015-03-10.
  45. ^ Noriega, Chon A. (May 2008). "Laura Aguilar: Clothed Unclothed: Challenging Normative Conceptions of the Body". UCLA Center for the Study of Women. Retrieved April 26, 2018.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]