The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art in New York is showcasing a comprehensive retrospective of pioneering photographer Laura Aguilar’s work. The exhibition, entitled Laura Aguilar: Show and Tell, is slated to run through June 27 and features more than 70 works produced over three decades – from the 1980s to the late 2000s.
“Through photographs and videos that are frequently political as well as personal, and which traverse performative, feminist and queer art genres, Aguilar offers candid portrayals of herself, her friends and family, and LGBTQ+ and Latinx communities,” the museum wrote in a statement.
The show includes Aguilar’s well-known work, “Three Eagles Flying”– her iconic 1990 black- and-white triptych. In the image, the artist stands topless between Mexican and American flags. A second Mexican flag is wrapped tightly over her face, and an American flag covers her lower half like a sarong. A thick rope is wrapped around her neck, binds her crossed hands in front of her and loops around her thighs.
This “deeply personal” piece “set the stage for her future work by using her nude body as an overt and courageous rebellion against the colonization of Chicana identities: racial, gendered, cultural and sexual,” Aguilar’s friend, Sybil Venegas, a curator and art historian, wrote in 2018. The work also delved into Aguilar’s emotions when as a child she was unable to express herself, Venegas continued.
Born with auditory dyslexia, which she said made reading and writing more difficult, Aguilar found her escape in photography. Her work reflected on her Mexican-American heritage and her identity as a lesbian, and she continued to use her own body as she progressed as an artist. In her well-known image, “In Sandy's Room,” Aguilar shows herself reclining naked on a chair with her feet up and a fan pointed in her direction.
And in later works, she featured her body – as well as those of other women – in nature. For her series, Grounded, Aguilar depicted herself nude at Joshua Tree National Monument.
“It is in Grounded, however, where Aguilar fully and completely merges with the landscape, the forms of the large boulders frame the contours of her body while Aguilar herself becomes the landscape,” Venegas wrote.
Venegas said this series was the last of Aguilar’s work before financial and health concerns limited her from traveling and working outdoors. Aguilar later died in 2018 at the age of 58 in Long Beach, California.
Several images from the Grounded series – as well as ones from three black and white nude self portrait series in nature – are being displayed as part of the Show and Tell exhibit. In addition, Aguilar’s candid portraits of women who frequented the lesbian bar, the Plush Pony, are also being shown.
“Aguilar’s life and work encompass so many facets of queer experience, including the struggle to reconcile difference and one's identity across conflicting cultures," said Stamatina Gregory, Chief Curator and Director of Programs, in a statement. "But her translation of these experiences into a unique and powerful visual language makes her one of the most important American photographers — and one whose recognition is long overdue.”
Laura Aguilar: Show and Tell is organized by the Vincent Price Art Museum in collaboration with the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center and guest curated by Venegas, who is an art historian and curator and Professor Emerita of Chicana/o Studies at East Los Angeles College. Catalog.