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Bottoms paints meaning into "Before and After Again"

A "sacred space." That is how some are describing "Before and After Again," the exhibition at the Buffalo AKG Art Museum that is dedicated to the victims of May 14, 2022 and their families. Featuring the work of artists Julia Bottoms, Jillian Hanesworth and Tiffany Gaines, the exhibition evolved in collaboration with Aaron Ott, the museum's Curator of Public Art. The effort has been in the making for 16 months.

"I think so much of this body of work deals with the idea of history and elders and legacy," said Bottoms, who was commissioned to paint 22 works, both still life and portraits. Leaving "empty spaces" in the portraits, she says, was part of "finding that balance to tell the story of what does it mean when a life is cut short."

The artists conducted interviews with family members to build perspective. The questions, Bottoms says, focused more on personalities and cherished memories than on tragedy.

"Another thing that came after the portrait work was this idea of the still-life pieces," Bottoms explained of the paintings and their deep symbolism.

"Things like the history of red lining in Buffalo or food scarcity. All those things I thought were really important to talk about, in addition to the idea of the loss."

Organizers hope "Before and After Again" inspires multiple visits. Placing the exhibition in the museum's M&T Gallery, which can be accessed free of admission charge, should help.

Bottoms wants patrons to understand the work is more of a celebration than a memorial. Still, she expects the experience to be emotional.

"Slow down. Feel that heaviness and that weight and just consider what it means," she said.

"Buffalo is a wonderful place, but there are also these very real issues that we don't like to talk about because it makes people uncomfortable," Bottoms added.

"It's much harder to sit with those feelings and have a hard conversation but I think that's absolutely what we have to do if we ever want to make any sort of progress."

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Jay joined Buffalo Toronto Public Media in 2008 and has been local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" ever since. In June, 2022, he was named one of the co-hosts of WBFO's "Buffalo, What's Next."

A graduate of St. Mary's of the Lake School, St. Francis High School and Buffalo State College, Jay has worked most of his professional career in Buffalo. Outside of public media, he continues in longstanding roles as the public address announcer for the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League and as play-by-play voice of Canisius College basketball.