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Laura Aguilar self portrait.
Laura Aguilar self portrait.

Chicana, lesbian and a big beauty: Laura Aguilar's 'nude' homeland

The queer photographer and activist portrayed the LGBTQ community in L.A. and used her own large, beautiful body as an anti-colonialist weapon.

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Susan Sontag once wrote, "I love limitations because they are the cause of inspiration." When a barrier arises there are those who stop and those who decide to jump it. Laura Aguilar falls in the latter, and in her struggle to break through these barriers, became a bridge for her LGBTQ sisters: queer, of color, working class, migrant, L.A. kinki beasts of the 80's, 90's and 2000. 

Until her own body became a landscape, a territory called "Laura's country", of which her self-portraits are good proof. 

Discriminated against in school because she read and spoke with difficulty - she suffered from auditory dyslexia that was only diagnosed when she was 26 - Aguilar found a new form of communication in photography thanks to her brother, who taught her the secrets of the darkroom and began taking photo classes during high school. 

In the late 1980s, her attempts to fit the puzzle pieces of her own multiple identities as queer, Hispanic, and a non-normative body - it was hard to accept her large size - led her to photograph other lesbian and black L.A. women who were invisible and silenced at a time when the LGBTQ movement was strictly white.

In one of her first series, Latina Lesbians, their queer and Hispanic comadres appear proudly challenging the camera, along with a phrase explaining what it was like to be a lesbian for them. That was the first time Aguilar also dared to stand in front of the camera with a self-portrait titled "Laura" that included a handwritten text: 

"I'm not comfortable with the word lesbian, but every day I feel more and more comfortable with the word LAURA."

Her search through photography led her during the 90s and early 2000s - she died in 2018 at the age of 58 - to merge with the arid desert landscape in series of self-portraits as moving as they were political. In them, she not only reaffirmed herself as "Laura" without labels, but also revealed a legendary path: the impossibility of not loving what is the product of nature and takes its place.

Naked and with her back turned, with her rounded, brown flesh curled up or lying down as if it were a mountain range in the deserted southwest of the United States, she shows herself to us in all her poetic frankness. 

"I'm trying to convince myself that I'm not what I always thought of myself: 'I'm ugly, I'm fat, and my life isn't worthy,'" she said of the series. "I'm these things too: I'm a kind, funny, compassionate person. In photos, I'm beautiful. I'm kind to myself."

Through her powerful quest for self-esteem and acceptance, Laura Aguilar opened the way for future generations of queer and Latino photographers and artists to explore the intersections between their multiple identities as Latinx and queer people in a country like the United States, where art and the voice of minorities are still underrepresented. 

Her legacy leaves no one indifferent, especially in photographs such as "Three Eagles Flying," where she plays with her last name, "Aguilar," and with the flags of Mexico and the United States, both of which strangle and bind her like the pea plant. 

In this way, huge and wild, Laura Aguilar moves us from the site, shows us that the only possible love starts from one and goes to the other.

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