Laura Aguilar shows and tells all at VPAM

By Gustavo Buenrostro

The culminations of three decades of work, “Laura Aguilar: Show and Tell” is now on display at the Vincent Price Art Museum.

More than 130 of Aguilar’s work spans two floors of photographs and videos, curated by Sybil Venegas.

Aguilar grew up in San Gabriel Valley and studied photography at East Los Angeles College in the 1980s, even taking photos for Campus News. Her work mainly focuses on the experiences of people who are marginalized in society like gays, lesbians and the obese. Many of Aguilar’s photos are nude self-portraits. These photos, she said, are for her to come to terms with her body and accept who she as a Chicana.

Photos of Aguilar with a gun stood out. There are four photos that go with each other. One with Aguilar just standing, looking straight at the camera. Next, she is holding a gun. The two after that show Aguilar nude, a gun pointed at herself. The meaning behind the photo could be interpreted as Aguilar being ashamed of who she is and how she looks. There are many photos where Aguilar was not the subject of the photograph. She photographed other people as well, having them go nude, too.

Another photo that stood out was the photo “Three Eagles Flying.” It shows the American flag, Aguilar with an eagle covering her face and the flag of Mexico. Aguilar is tied up, being stuck in the middle between the American flag and the Mexican flag.

In the press release for the showcase, VPAM says that the “Three Eagles Flying” was the beginning of the work that Aguilar would be known for.

“Aguilar’s now iconic triptych, ‘Three Eagles Flying’ (1990), set the stage for her future work by using her nude body as an overt and courageous rebellion against the colonization of Latinx identities — racial, gendered, cultural and sexual,” from press release.

At the opening reception on Saturday, the director and curators were there along with Aguilar herself. There were about 650 people that attended the opening reception, said VPAM director Pilar Thompkins Rivas. She said it was a big opening for the museum and she was thrilled with the turnout. They said they were happy to have Aguilar’s work at the VPAM and that they shared their own stories about her.

Aguilar started out taking photos at home with her brother.

Her brother gave her a camera when she was in high school as a deal they made. If she took a photography class, he would give her his camera, which she did.

“I started out doing everything my brother did. He got a camera and then he showed me how to develop film,” said Aguilar. She says that she got allergic to the things in her brother’s room that also served as a dark room. Her mother told her that she could use the patio as a dark room, but she had to put up walls for it. She said that she would go to a relative’s farm to take pictures.

“I would chase the geese and ducks taking pictures while the peacocks would chase me,” said Aguilar.

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