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Activist’s art project analyzes Chicago’s segregation in ‘Folded Map’ project

Tonika Johnson's Folded Map project compares addresses on the 6900 block of North Ashland in Rogers Park to addresses on the 6900 block of South Ashland in West Englewood. | Screenshot of video provided by Tonika Johnson

Tonika Johnson says her whole life has led up to the “Folded Map” project.

The 38-year-old grew up in Englewood on the South Side. She went to Lane Technical College Prep High School on the North Side. Later, she lived in Edgewater on the North Side for a while and now lives in Englewood again. So she has had a first-hand glimpse of the city’s segregation.

Tonika Johnson, 38, discusses her “Folded Map” art project earlier this monthon the porch of her Englewood home. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“My whole life I knew how different these neighborhoods look, how different these streets looks,” said Johnson, an activist who co-founded the Resident Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E.), a grassroots organization aimed at solving community issues. “It was very clear to me growing up.”

“Folded Map” is a visual investigation of Chicago’s communities, using the grid system to identify and directly compare photographs and videos of North and South side blocks, such as the 6900 block of North Ashland in Rogers Park and the 6900 block of South Ashland in West Englewood.

“Same street, between 15 and 17 miles apart, but (the blocks) look completely different,” Johnson said. “I wanted to really reveal how different the environments look, the structures look and also the sounds.”

She started the project by identifying addresses and real estate, but “Folded Map” evolved into conversations with neighborhood residents. She eventually brought the North and Side side residents together and documented their exchanges.

“Essentially, I wanted to reveal the inequity,” she said. “Being an artist and a photographer, I thought of a way that would be visually captivating for people to understand how Chicago’s legacy of segregation has impacted the neighborhoods.”

Johnson said the “Folded Map” project provided people an opportunity to go to neighborhoods they wouldn’t have otherwise visited, and added that “community” was something every person said they wanted in their neighborhood.

“It was really powerful to see residents talking about some really tough issues around housing, education, crime and just the economic differences in the neighborhood, and really just starting a dialogue,” she said. The 12 participants ranged from married couples, to a young African-American man, to a middle-aged Asian man and a middle-aged white woman.

The “Folded Map” project began when she was a summer photojournalism fellow at the City Bureau, a civic journalism lab based on the South Side.

She also analyzed addresses on the 6300 block of North Paulina and the 6300 block of South Paulina; the 6300 block of North Hermitage and the 6300 block of South Hermitage; the 6500 block of North Winchester and the 5600 block of South Winchester; the 6100 block of North Wolcott and the 6100 block of South Wolcott, and addresses on the 6500 block of North Damen and the 6500 block of South Damen.

“Chicago’s segregation unfortunately is steeped in a history of racist policies and discrimination, and that’s how you end up with certain neighborhoods not having the investment or the resources,” Johnson said.

“I think it was just about time for a Chicagoan to really just put out in the forefront what Chicago’s segregation looks like.”

The “Folded Map” exhibition opens July 3 at the Loyola University Museum of Art, 820 N. Michigan Ave., and runs through Oct. 20.