Social Justice Artist/Photographer


Covid-19 Virtual Engagement Archive

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Tonika began accepting many invitations from organizations, government entities, educational institutions and museums to do virtual engagements discussing her work. Some of those virtual engagements are archived here.

December 12, 2020 - Acclaimed fiber artist Bisa Butler and Tonika Johnson gathered for a virtual conversation on occasion of the Art Institute of Chicago's (AIC) exhibition, Bisa Butler: Portraits, with Erica Warren, AIC's associate curator of Textiles.

On October 8, 2020, Tonika Johnson was in conversation with Lee Bey, architecture critic, photographer, community historian, and author for the sixth installment of Common Ground, a weekly conversation series with activists, social justice practitioners, and changemakers by New York based, independent arts forum Brooklyn Rail.

The conversation explores the cultural life in the South Side of Chicago, how segregation is baked into our cities, and how the curative for systemic disinvestment is shifting value back onto your own block. They also discuss Johnson’s response to Alec Soth’s photo essay commissioned by The New York Times, why this infringement is emblematic of a broader problem of racism in media journalism, and her new project, Belonging which highlights the experiences of teenagers growing up in a system of policing and containment designed to keep them from traversing their own city as full citizens, and who still persist in creating spaces of belonging and sustenance. This conversation is moderated by Malvika Jolly, and closes with a reading from poet and music journalist I.S. Jones.

October 6, 2020 - With a dynamic conversation about building bridges to a more racially equitable Illinois, The Illinois Dept. of Human Services launched Healing Illinois launched Healing Illinois, a racial healing initiative led by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), in partnership with The Chicago Community Trust, designed to distribute $4.5 million in grants to organizations across the state to activate the work of racial healing. Governor JB Pritzker, Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton and Deputy Governor Sol Flores opened the conversation, which was moderated by Grace Hou, Secretary, Illinois Dept. of Human Services Secretary. Tonika was one of the panelists along with José A. Rico, executive director of Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation, Greater Chicago and Dar Bryant, Director of The Dream Center of Alton, IL. Click to watch the complete conversation.

October 28, 2020 - Tonika and her frequent artistic collaborator, Paola Aguirre Serrano of Borderless Studio (, moderated Chicago Humanities Festival’s Chicago Neighborhood Check-In on Arts & Neighborhood Development with Karin Abercrombie, Executive Director of the Swedish American Museum; Bernard Loyd, founder and president of social enterprise, Urban Junture; and
Billy Ocasio, Executive Director of the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture and served as the 26th Ward Alderman in Chicago's City Council for over 16 years.

October 20, 2020 - For University of Illinois in Chicago (UIC) Gallery 400’s VOICES’s artist series, Tonika discussed her art practice and current exhibition at the Chicago Justice Gallery Belonging: Power, Place, and (Im)Possibilities, with Social Justice Initiative Director Barbara Ransby and youth organizer Asha Edwards
The following link is to the original event page announcement -

October 17, 2020 - Open House Chicago'and its community partner, Hyde Park Art Center, co-convened this roundtable discussion about artist-driven community activations, creative projects and placemaking across Chicago with Tonika, her fellow Englewood Arts Collective co-founders Janell & Joe Nelson (, Faheem Majeed of The Floating Museum (, Paola Aguirre of Creative Grounds/Borderless Studio (, Ann Liu of Future Firm/The North Lawndale Incubator (, ALT Space (

October 2, 2020 - The School of the Art Institute of Chicago invited Tonika Lewis Johnson to share her transdisciplinary work and discuss her artistic practice with their Department of Contemporary Practices. During this lecture she talks about her community advocacy work with Resident Assc. of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E.), her space activations, and ofcourse her many multi-media photography projects such as Folded Map and her latest project, Belonging.

September 16, 2020 - President Toni Preckwinkle introduced the screeening of Folded Map Project's short film and panel discussion featuring Asiaha (Aysha) Butler of Resident Association of Greater Englewood, Dr. Maria Krysan, Professor of Sociology and co-author of The Cycle of Segregation, and Tonika Johnson. Here is the introduction and the Q&A portion of the event.

September 9, 2020 - University of Illinois in Chicago’s (UIC) Social Justice Initiative (SJI) presented the online exhibition opening of Tonika’s latest project, Belonging: Place, Power, and (Im)Possibilities, a series of portraits and interviews chronicling the ways in which, nine young people have been made to feel like they don’t belong in their own city. The exhibition also explores how they push back against the politics of racism, exclusion and containment by creating their own “free spaces,” and organizations that contest the commons. During this virtual exhibition opening Tonika was in conversation with SJI’s Assc. Director, Essence McDowell and Taylore from youth organizing group, GoodKids MadCity with an opening by SJI’s Director, Dr. Barbara Ransby.

May 14, 2020 - During the pandemic, Chicago Humanities Festival created the Chicago Neighborhood Check-In series, in which they ask artists, cultural workers, and organizers about the local impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Tonika Johnson and Asiaha Butler, co-founders of the Resident Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E.), talked about how this crisis has affected the health, economy, and social ties of their community. Drawing on their intertwined backgrounds in art and activism, Tonika and Aysha reflected on their personal experiences living and working in Englewood during the pandemic, and their hopes for community healing after this crisis.

Up Next:

Folded Map 2018 Exhibition