University of New Mexico senior Gerald Lovato was a child when he first realized the power of creating art to escape and heal from trauma. Now looking forward to graduating in December, he will share his work in his Honors thesis project, which is an interdisciplinary approach to making art to create a social impact and promote community healing. 

His exhibition, Gerald Lovato: Burque Unite will be held Saturday, Oct. 29, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Orpheum Community Hub and Homewise Homeownership Center, 500 2nd St. SW in Albuquerque.

Photo by Gerald Lovato
Photo from community series by Gerald Lovato

The one-day exhibition will include a live performance by Lovato at 11:30 a.m., followed by an artist talk at 12:30 p.m. Food will be provided free of charge by executive chef Fernando Ruiz of Escondido Restaurant during the special Interactive community feast and forum from 1 to 3 p.m. The event will conclude with a celebration of life reception from 3 to 7 p.m. Community members are encouraged to share their stories and participate in Dia de los Muertos altar installation by bringing photos and ofrenda objects for their loved ones. All Burque Unite programming is free and open to the public. Lovato plans to follow up the event with a publication. The exhibition and events were sponsored by Bernalillo County Commission District 3, Adriann Barboa, Nusenda Credit Union, Escondido Restaurant, Invigorate Roofing, and Homewise.

Lovato’s non-traditional exhibitions aims to be a safe space for community interaction and healing, using art as a catalyst for creating conversations between youth, adults, and elders throughout Albuquerque. 

An Albuquerque native, Lovato focuses on themes that greatly exemplify major problems of the city: drug addiction, violence, suicide, and mental health.

Raised in a family of drug addicts, Lovato endured abuse as he was growing up.

“As a small child, I used art to escape. I didn’t realize this till recently, but the reason I took to martial arts so well was because of the catharsis I experienced in practice. When I delved into visual arts, I was surprised that it gave me the same spiritual and cathartic experience. As a visual artist using different mediums allows me to process and heal from my trauma in different ways, which is my sole purpose for making art, to heal.”

From Burque Unite show
From Gerald Lovato's 'Loss' series

His journey to becoming a UNM art student has been a rough one. In 2002, he was a victim of a knife attack in Albuquerque.

“I was stabbed in the face, arm, and leg and nearly bled out. The ulnar nerve in my arm was severed, paralyzing my dominant right hand. My physical therapist recommended I try martial arts to cope with the trauma and build mobility in my hand, which led to a nearly 10-year career in professional mixed martial arts (MMA) competition. When I retired from MMA competition, I began to explore the idea of becoming an artist. Gaining the use of my hand again inspired me to attempt to be an artist.”

Lovato’s tattoo-covered body is a work of art itself and chronicles his trauma and efforts to heal.

“For me, it was a part of the culture growing up, so some of them are more of a map of where I was in my life when I got them. The most significant ones were when I tattooed over all of my scars where I was stabbed as a way of healing and taking back what I thought I lost: my self-esteem.” 

Lovato is now a senior majoring in Fine Arts with a studio concentration in Painting and Photography, and minoring in Arts Business + Leadership. He will graduate in December. 

“My thesis is about healing and exploring the losses of loved ones that I experienced while attending UNM,” Lovato explained. “The themes of these losses were gun violence, drug addiction, and suicide. I analyzed the New Mexico data to find that we are at an all-time high for all three of these themes post-pandemic. My thesis research was to find the parallels between these losses and our culture, which led me to the root being behavioral health. This research helped me make decisions while I was making my work and ultimately influenced my overall goal for my thesis exhibition which is community impact through artistic intervention.”

Lovato is using his art for not only sharing his own story but also giving the community an opportunity to be heard.

Lovato made a surprising confession: “I don’t have a favorite medium. I make art to heal and it can be very painful. I actually don’t like any of the art I make. I am more excited about the concepts and the ideas of creating social movements through art.”  

The tragedies he has experienced living in New Mexico are not unique to himself, Lovato noted, and his thesis exhibition will invite catharsis for himself and his audience.

“My thesis in its entirety is a conceptual piece with the goal of creating a safe space for community healing by using my art as a catalyst for creating conversations between youth, adults, and elders. When I give my artist talk it will also be a community luncheon with food being served for the community for free. During my talk, I will open it up so that the community can have a voice. One of the things I have learned is that when I share intimate traumas through art, it gives the viewer permission to share their stories. I am attempting to give them that space.” 

After graduation, Lovato will apply to graduate school for an MFA program. 

“I have had some of the most wonderful professors at UNM,” Lovato said. “The most powerful connection I had was with my photography professor, Shelby Roberts. She has believed in me since the beginning. My thesis committee is made up of a group of badasses, Raychael Stine, Meggan Gould, and Stephanie Woods. They have all had strong impacts on me. My art history professor Kency Cornejo has also been an inspiration to me and influenced me to explore my place in art history as a Latinx artist.”  

“I barely made it through my time at UNM with all the losses I have experienced recently. I have put all my heart and soul into this event and hope I will gain closure and healing. I understand my thesis exhibition will not be a traditional BFA thesis show. The reason I chose to challenge myself with such an ambitious thesis exhibition, is to signify the seriousness of my purpose. I hope to see my community from UNM at the event and say hi.”