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The black ink inscription underneath Laura Aguilar’s defiant, crossed-arm self-portrait encapsulates the ethos of her Pacific Standard Time LA/LA retrospective: “My father told me if asked say your ‘Mexican American’ My mother told me what ever you do in life, all people will see is the color of your skin. I spent 20 years feeling ashamed, but that was then.” Tracing a trajectory away from that particular “then,” Aguilar’s exhibition celebrates her identity as a large-bodied, Latinx, queer artist.
The 130 works, namely black and white photographic portraits and self-portraits, foreground underrepresented bodies, their conditions, and their surrounding community with unequivocal delight. For Aguilar, visibility is a mode of self-acceptance, of belonging, and a site for conversation, critique, and resistance.
Aguilar’s photographic scenes are punctuated by pride and deliberation, from nude self-portraits crouching beside rocks on nature landscapes to her Latina Lesbian portraits, where her subjects scribble hopeful, empowering captions about their sexuality and race. By including her subjects’ thoughts and subjectivities, she rejects the potential violence and voyeurism of wielding a camera, shifting traditional power dynamics of subject and artist. Aguilar further blurs this distinction by inserting herself into various series.
Aguilar’s depictions of her LGBTQ and Mexican-American peers trouble the notion of who is visible in our visual culture. In her grounded state, prostrate beside the dirt, kneeling upon a boulder, or reclining at a stream, she depicts a moment of quietude for an oft-unseen body in a wholly natural state, its curves and contours folded over the recesses of the landscape in a mode both beautiful and uncompromising.
Laura Aguilar: Show and Tell runs September 16, 2017–February 10, 2018 at Vincent Price Art Museum (Vincent Price Art Museum, East Los Angeles College, 1301 Avenida Cesar Chavez, Monterey Park, CA 91754).