Chicago Crossing boundaries
Where north meets south
As a teenager, Tonika Johnson traveled every morning morning from her home in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood to Lane Tech High School in the North Side neighborhood of Roscoe Village. The disparities between the North and South Sides were striking to her then, and as she got older, that experience served as the inspiration for Johnson, a photographer and community activist, to create Folded Map, a project that connects Chicagoans on the South Side with residents at corresponding North Side addresses. Natasha Ritsma, curator at the Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA), helped Johnson accelerate the ongoing project, which ends its run at LUMA on October 20.
Johnson’s exhibit Everyday Englewood was previously shown at LUMA, but Johnson’s family has an even longer history at Loyola. Two of her cousins are alumni, one of whom played on the women’s basketball team. Her aunt, Kathy Bell, worked at the University for nearly two decades in multiple departments, including the Office of the Provost, until she passed from cancer in 2016.
Here, Johnson discusses her family’s long relationship with the University, how the exhibit came together, and when she finally found hope for Chicago’s future.
So, what made Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA) the right place for Folded Map?
Well, several reasons—I think that the reason my family connection to Loyola is so strong is also the reason that my artistic connection to Loyola is the same: the commitment to educate people about social justice issues and advance their understanding of Chicago and our society. I know those were strong factors in why my cousin decided to go to Loyola. Those same values are what I share as an artist.
When I was lucky enough to have Natasha approach me to exhibit at Loyola, it just made complete sense to me. I’ve heard nothing but great things about Loyola my whole life through my family, and now I’m being presented with the opportunity to exhibit at Loyola? It was just a no-brainer for me. I was well-aware of Loyola’s very strong commitment to social justice issues. I love to be able to contribute and be a part of Loyola’s legacy, especially since I wasn’t able to be a student like my cousins.