Elena Burykina of Chattanooga painted "Hope, Fear, Wonder." She began painting portraits of children several years ago. One of her favorite models is a young boy named Owen, the son of friends. Each portrait is part of a series of paintings. She paints a new portrait of Owen every year and says she enjoys seeing how he grows and how his personality changes.

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AVA hosts Second Annual Black History Month Exhibit

The Association for Visual Arts operated for nearly 30 years without mounting a Black History Month exhibit — until 2017 when then-Executive Director Ric Morris showcased the first.

People who had never been to the building visited for that event.

Not wanting the momentum to end, the new chief curator, Krenesha Whiteside, has installed AVA's second annual Black History Month exhibit, on display through Feb. 23. "The Modern Day Paris Exposition" depicts contemporary issues relevant to black Americans.

"What I've noticed with last year's Black History Month exhibit and this year's is that's when we get the most black people in here," Whiteside says.

Previously, she says, many blacks in town didn't know the AVA existed. Those familiar with AVA have the advantage of knowing that there is a free place to see good local art. Seeing art, Whiteside says, helps viewers look at the world in a different way and try to understand what people are saying.

"Once you look at a piece of art, your day has been changed," she says.

If you go

› What: Black History Month exhibit, “The Modern Day Paris Exposition.”

› When: Through Feb. 23. Gallery open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday.

› Where: AVA Gallery, 30 Frazier Ave.

› Phone: 423-265-4282.

› Website:

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga art student Jonathan Dean has showcased his drawing "Say Their Names" in the exhibit to illustrate why organizations like Black Lives Matter exist. He drew a "Wanted Dead or Alive" poster that includes images of black people with no eyes who died to violence.

"No one really saw who those people were," says Dean. "They just saw them as criminal or some other negative image. I wanted to express the feeling that these people's humanity was not seen."

The absence of their eyes prevents viewers from connecting with them — from really seeing them — because that's how they were treated when they were killed, he says.

Most of the featured artists are local or have ties to the city.

The exhibit includes drawings, paintings, mixed media and handmade jewelry, as well as an interactive piece geared toward children that highlights black fraternities and sororities. Prices range from about $250 to about $2,500.

Whiteside says at least one artist has sold a piece in every art show she has installed since she's been at AVA, so she's hoping for similar results with this show.

She got the idea for "The Modern Day Paris Exposition" after reading about how the late sociologist and author W.E.B. Du Bois asked blacks to make charts illustrating issues they dealt with in America as the 20th century began. They tackled issues like health care, education and housing. But instead of putting the graphs in black and white, he asked them to make them colorful and artistic.

He presented the information at the 1900 Paris Exposition to tell the world about the gains African- Americans had made since the Civil War, as well as their continuing plight as second-class citizens. The result was that people not only engaged with the work, they soaked in the information.

He published that information in Europe and the U.S., which led to him publishing the book "The Souls of Black Folk," now considered classic American literature, says Whiteside.

Not all of the artists featured in "The Modern Day Paris Exposition" are African-American.

White artists such as Amy Roberts have included portraits of African-Americans who impacted them, and Julie Bauer created "Black and White Separated" to illustrate integration.

Jasmine Burson, who is black, wanted her art to illustrate the "resurgence of black culture." Sean Clark, who is black, uses a mixed-media canvas to express the lack of value of life concerning black men called "Dead, White and Blue."

Contact Yolanda Putman at or 423-757-6431.