It is a basic desire of all human beings ‘to belong:’ to a family, community, tribe or nation. Many of us claim world citizenship as a more robust form of ‘belonging,’ one that transcends borders, boundaries and cultural divides. As the esteemed Chicago poet Gwendolyn Brooks reminds us, “we are each other’s harvest.” So, on a fundamental level, we should all belong to one another.
In reality, we are divided as a city, nation and world. The city of Chicago is notorious for its rigid neighborhood boundaries and racial and ethnic divides. Despite decades of protest, bridge-building and policy initiatives, we remain separate and apart in many ways. A 2017 study by UIC’s Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy, “A Tale of Three Cities,” revealed the troubling but real class and racial divides that exist among the Black, White, and Latinx communities.
It is against this backdrop of structural inequality that we present a powerful but nuanced exhibition on “belonging” and “exclusion” by the celebrated Chicago photographer and conceptual artist, Tonika Johnson. In a series of interviews with eight Black and one Latinx teenagers, Johnson chronicles the ways in which they have been made to feel they don’t belong in their own city. Racial profiling, gentrification, and biased notions of class and crime all fuel attitudes, practices,
and policies that create systematic inequality, marginalizing, and excluding
young people of color in Chicago from many public spaces. Johnson’s camera captures the sites in the city where each of her nine subjects were excluded
and made to feel like outsiders.
This exhibition is presented by the Social Justice Initiative at the University of Illinois at Chicago. We are honored to feature the work of conceptual artist and photographer, Tonika Johnson. We acknowledge the contributions of exhibition designer Lauren Meranda. The virtual exhibition team also included: KT Duffy (Virtual Map Design), Joe Nelson (Mural), David Robinson and Marcelllus Felix (Sound). Development led by SJI staff, Dr. Barbara Ransby and Essence McDowell.
AUYANAH, 17 YEARS-OLD
She was 16 years-old when one of her
classmates at Lane Tech High School,
used the “N - word” in class and was
not reprimanded by their teacher.
A teacher criticized Auyanah as being
“too aggressive” when she objected
to the racial slur being used in class.
DAVID, 19 YEARS-OLD
When he was 14 years-old his next door
neighbor in Lincoln Park accused him
of breaking into her home, with no evidence
whatsoever, and called the police. She
later conceded that she may have jumped
SOLOMON, 16 YEARS-OLD
He was walking down the street in Hyde
Park, when a white woman walking in
the opposite direction visibly clutched her
purse as if he was going to snatch it.
LAUREN, 18 YEARS-OLD
She and her younger sister were in a Korean
supermarket, H-Mart, in the West Loop when
they were questioned by the security officer
for no apparent reason other than that they
may have looked ‘out of place.’
TESHER, 18 YEARS-OLD
He was stopped and questioned for no
apparent reason upon entering the Urban
Outfitters clothing store on State Street
in downtown Chicago. White patrons were
NYJAH, 17 YEARS-OLD
She was pulled over by the police on a
side street a block away from her home
in Englewood for not having a license
plate light. It was apparent the officer
viewed her with suspicion even though
her “offense” was extremely minor.
JASON, 18 YEARS-OLD
When he was 12 years-old white mothers
would not allow their children at a
playground in Hyde Park to play with him
and his brother, the only two Black
children on the playground.
SAJJAD, 17 YEARS-OLD
When he was 15 years-old he was standing
at a bus stop near his home in the
Lakeview neighborhood. An older white
woman demonstrated through her body
language that she was obviously afraid of
him and wanted to keep her distance.
ESTRELLA, 16 YEARS-OLD
Her family was pushed out of their Logan
Square home due to gentrification and
skyrocketing rents. When she and her family
returned for a visit, she was made to feel
like an intruder because her family was
having an animated conversation outdoors.
© 2020 Chicago Justice Gallery
Website by Studio Brazen
This exhibition is presented by the Social Justice Initiative at the University of
Illinois at Chicago. We are honored to feature the work of conceptual artist and photographer, Tonika Johnson.
We acknowledge the contributions of exhibition designers, Lauren Meranda and Janice Bond, and curatorial support by Sadie Woods. The exhibition team also included: Paola Aguirre (Exhibit Map Design), KT Duffy (Interactive Map Activity), Joe Nelson (Mural), David Robinson and Marcelllus Felix (Sound). Development
led by SJI staff, Dr. Barbara Ransby and Essence McDowell.