From Loyola University Museum of Art:
Activist-artist Tonika Lewis Johnson’s visually stunning photographs document daily life in Englewood. Johnson tenderly challenges the sensationalized, damage-centered narrative of the Chicago South Side neighborhood in which she was raised. Her images celebrate the resilience of urban Black culture in Englewood by portraying levity, triumph, joy and normalcy. In December, Johnson was named one of Chicago Magazine’s 2017 Chicagoans of the Year.
Photo Essay Excerpt:
“Life beyond the headlines in Englewood” | Statistics on crime and unemployment in the south-side neighborhood don’t begin to present the whole picture.
By Tonika Johnson and Ruth Lopez
Tonika [Lewis] Johnson’s celebratory images of her native Englewood provide a perspective on one of Chicago’s most troubled neighborhoods that’s rarely seen—one of lives lived with beauty and joy. While there’s no getting around the south-side neighborhood’s problems, statistics on crime and unemployment don’t begin to present the whole picture.
In addition to being a photographer and the program manager for the urban farming nonprofit Growing Home, Johnson identifies herself as a “community arts activist.” “It’s a recent title I’ve stepped into and given myself,” the 37-year-old says. She applies the term with a sense of pride, understanding the kind of power and emotional uplift that can come from creative works. “I want to use my art and my voice as a platform,” she says, “to make art more visible and more valued in the community.”
But it wasn’t until Johnson finally stepped outside of her community that she began to grasp how artwork could elevate a place. In high school her love of writing led her to Young Chicago Authors, when the then-fledgling youth arts organization was located on Division Street in Wicker Park. “That was my first time going into a community that was predominantly of another race,” Johnson recalls. “I was suddenly immersed in a proud Latino community, and I was just amazed at how they represented their culture in murals and street art.” Johnson grew up in a neighborhood all but devoid of such flourishes. “I can only imagine what my childhood might have been like if I had access to art at an earlier age,” she says. Not until her first year in college did Johnson pick up a camera with any intention. “I could have started on that path earlier.”
Read complete photo essay and view more images by photographer here.
View Tonika Lewis Johnson’s Work | On View thru June 2, 2018
Loyola University Museum of Art, 820 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611