TONIKA JOHNSON

Social Justice Artist/Photographer

TONIKA JOHNSON

Belonging Project

My BELONGING project captures the stories of 8 Black youth & 1 Latinx from Chicago about how they perceive themselves and that moment of rupture when they realize – regardless of whether they’re an artist, a gamer, a musician – that society has a different perception of them. This is both a trauma and rite of passage affecting countless youth. It affects how these youth think about justice, engage in politics, and interact with authority. Belonging’s audio interviews call witness to it by recounting these experiences and the photographs are portraits of each young person at the place where they were made to feel like they weren’t welcomed and misperceived.

While Belonging’s portraits of young peoples’ experiences paint a grim picture of hierarchy, surveillance, entitlement and narrow mindedness, it is not a tale of defeat. Through their own creative agency, young people of color push back against the politics of racism, exclusion and containment by creating their own “free spaces.” In these spaces they are able to freely express themselves without judgment or sanctions.

This project was scheduled to be exhibited April 9th at the Chicago Justice Gallery in partnership with UIC’s Social Justice Initiative but cancelled due to the pandemic. Until we can have a socially distanced in-person exhibit, you can view the project in its entirety at www.BelongingChicago.com

This is Lauren's story, age 18, of how 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."

Sept. 20, 2020, ABC 7 Chicago News featured the online opening of Tonika's Belonging exhibit at UIC's Chicago Justice Gallery as part of their Chicago Proud morning segment. Here is the corresponding link to the story: https://abc7chicago.com/social-justice-initiative-chicago-gallery-belonging-exhibit-university-of-illinois/6465633/

Here is Solomon’s story, age 16, of how he was in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood walking down a street towards a white woman when she visibly grabbed her purse.

In Belonging: Power, Place and (Im)Possibilities, Tonika Lewis Johnson explores “belonging,” and “exclusion.” The virtual exhibition features interviews with eight Black and one Latinx teenagers detailing their experiences and the ways in which they have been made to feel like outsiders. The images of these young people of color at the location of the offense in Chicago further expose how racial profiling, gentrification, and biased notions of class and crime all fuel attitudes, practices, and policies that create systemic inequality and marginalization.
Visit the project website at www. BelongingChicago.com

While Belonging's portraits of young peoples’ experiences paint a grim picture of hierarchy, surveillance, entitlement and narrow mindedness, it is not a tale of defeat. Through their own creative agency, young people of color push back against the politics of racism, exclusion and containment by creating their own “free spaces.” In these spaces they are able to freely express themselves without judgment or sanctions. Here are youth at a wekkly Sunday Dance Battle at Astronaut Flee Dance Studio on Chicago's South Side.

Sunday Dance Battle at Astronaut Flee Dance Studio on Chicago's South Side (2019)

Sunday Dance Battle at Astronaut Flee Dance Studio on Chicago's South Side (2019)

Sunday Dance Battle at Astronaut Flee Dance Studio on Chicago's South Side (2019)

Sunday Dance Battle at Astronaut Flee Dance Studio on Chicago's South Side (2019)

Up Next:

Folded Map Exhibit in Englewood