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

to conclusions.

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

not detained.

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.

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