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Novel impressions: ‘Ultima’ exhibit displays artists’ interpretations of Anaya’s novel

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Augustine Romero took advantage of a second opportunity.

And he’s making it bigger and better.

Romero is the guest curator for “La Ultima Exhibición,” which is on display at the National Hispanic Cultural Center Art Museum. It runs through Nov. 11.

The exhibit features visual interpretations of Rudolfo Anaya’s celebrated book “Bless Me, Ultima” – a portrait of life in rural New Mexico as seen through the eyes of a young boy during World War II.

"El Tecolote" by El Moises. The painting is part of "La Ultima Exhibición," now open at the National Hispanic Cultural Center

“El Tecolote” by El Moises. The painting is part of “La Ultima Exhibición,” now open at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

All the 24 artists in the exhibit have their own interpretations of what the book meant to them. The exhibit is a mixture of all mediums.

In the novel, rural life is hard but it is also magical. Ultima, a spiritual healer, helps her grandson Antonio create his own moral balance and independence. Through many trials and tribulations, Antonio learns that he must come to his own moral conclusions about the struggles and tragedies of life.

“It’s a revisit of an earlier show that took place in 2006 at the South Broadway Cultural Center,” Romero says. “There seems to be more interest in ‘Bless Me, Ultima’ now than there was in 2006.”

Troy Bradley, the graphic designer for the event, looks at some of the pieces that are ready to be installed, including "Spirit of Ultima" by Chris Rivera

Troy Bradley, the graphic designer for the event, looks at some of the pieces that are ready to be installed, including “Spirit of Ultima” by Chris Rivera. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

The novel became a focal point of cultural identity and inspiration for Romero, who draws parallels in his own life to the characters created by Rudolfo Anaya.

For Romero, the coming-of-age aspect of the novel is similar to an artist finding his or her own voice, and as an artist, he is keenly aware of how the written word can inspire other artistic expression.

He became a curator to support himself as well as to encourage other artists, and the 2006 version of this exhibition, “La Ultima Grande,” was one of his first shows.

He says the goal then, as it is now, was to organize an exhibit rooted in regional perspectives of symbolic identity as we relate to our territorial surroundings and cultural values.

“The fact that there’s a lot of new artists who are bringing a sense of emotion and sensibility is great,” he says. “The book has meant so much to so many. And a younger generation of artists are finding the book and tapping into it as well.”

Some of the artists featured are Jesús “Cimi” Alvarado, George C de Baca, Sylvia Ortiz Domney, Christian Michael Gallegos, Roberto Gallegos, Eric Garcia, Kristina Gonzales, Nacho Jaramillo, Al Na’Ir Lara, Chisim Bernal Lujan, Oscar Lozoya, Chris Ray Melendez, El Moisés, Derrick Montez, Paloma Paz Nava, Gabriel Luis Powers, Chris Rivera, Rebecca H. Hernandez Rosser, and Catalina Salinas.

Alvarado’s piece is titled “La Grande,” and it was commissioned by Arenas Marketing for the premiere of the film in El Paso in 2012. The painting used to create billboards for the premiere of the movie focused on the symbolism created by Anaya in the novel.

“Antonio is portrayed as he watched Ultima releasing her owl,” Alvarado says. “Although in the novel the owl is killed by Tenorio, I wanted to show the close relationship that Ultima had with the owl. Ultima is the one who performs the healings and provides guidance to others. She is the one who nurtures Antonio’s spiritual awakening. In a way, she’s the scapegoat of a cosmic struggle between good and evil.”

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