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Laura Aguilar (1959–2018)

Laura Aguilar, the Mexican American artist known for her bold and intimate photographs of herself, her friends, her family, and marginalized groups such as women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community, has died. She was fifty-eight years old. “My photography has always provided me with an opportunity to open myself up and see the world around me,” Aguilar wrote. “And most of all, photography makes me look within.”

Born in San Gabriel, California, in 1959, Aguilar was the daughter of a Mexican American father and a Mexican Irish mother. As a woman of color, a lesbian, and an auditory dyslexic, Aguilar used photography as an outlet and a way to explore and challenge notions of identity, the female body, and societal assumptions about beauty. She studied photography at the East Los Angeles Community College and participated in Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, but mostly considered herself self-taught.

Aguilar’s work has been exhibited in the 1993 Venice Biennale, as well as at the Los Angeles City Hall Bridge Gallery, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, the Smithsonian Institution’s International Gallery in Washington DC, and the International Center of Photography in New York.

The artist’s first retrospective, featuring more than 130 works, is currently on view at the Frost Art Museum in Miami. The show, which spans three decades of Aguilar’s career, first debuted at the Vincent Price Art Museum in Monterey Park, California, last September. In a review of “Laura Aguilar: Show and Tell” in the January 2018 issue of Artforum, Andy Campbell wrote: “Aguilar’s work invites the kind of looking that both disturbs and confirms one’s sense of the world.”

Among the works showcased in the exhibition is Three Eagles Flying, a powerful black-and-white portrait of the artist standing bare-breasted and tied with rope between the American and Mexican flags, as if stuck in limbo between between the two countries. It also includes several series of works such as the “Plush Pony Series,” 1992, for which she documented the working-class regulars at a lesbian bar in downtown Los Angeles, and “Nude Self-Portraits,” photographs of the artist lying among the desert terrain and natural rock formations of New Mexico.

“Laura Aguilar’s work is so important for its many intersections across queer, brown communities, and in relationship to feminist and Latinx scholarship. She is a highly intuitive and gifted photographer and we are honored to be able to present the first major survey of her work.”