Chicago artist tackles urban segregation

Video Credit: Reuters - Politics
Published on August 3, 2020 - Duration: 03:13s

Chicago artist tackles urban segregation

Artist Tonika Johnson hopes her “Folded Map Project” in Chicago – which brings together residents from the North and South Sides – can serve as a model for "awkward but necessary" conversations on racial inequality nationwide.

Vanessa Johnston reports.

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Chicago artist tackles urban segregation

This is a house on Chicago's South Side in a predominantly Black neighborhood.

This is a house at the same address on Chicago's North Side in a predominantly white neighborhood.

The photos are part of "The Folded Map Project" by artist Tonika Johnson from Chicago's Englewood neighborhood.

UPSOUND OF JOHNSON FROM PROMO VIDEO: "You've probably heard the words used to describe Englewood as: Black, Dangerous, Poor, Gun Violence, but Englewood is where I grew up and still live." Johnson says she wanted to explore the effects of urban segregation and dispel notions that people should fear coming to her neighborhood.

"Even though we struggle with issues of gun violence, it's not like as soon as you step on any block you're just going to get shot potentially.

Like, that's just not a reality.

But that is literally what people think." But what started as a project in 2017 focused on homes, quickly turned into a project focused on the people in those homes.

"It just naturally evolved into me one day asking one resident if they wanted to meet their 'map twin' resident.

And they said, 'yes.'

And I was like, oh my gosh, what am I going to have them talk about?" She decided to interview them together, posing, at times, uncomfortable questions, such as how much they paid for their house.

Jonathan Silverstein and his wife Paula Hermann say it was an eye-opening experience.

"I guess it is really striking, you know, how lucky we are, and we certainly don't think of ourselves as living in a rich neighborhood but compared to some we are very privileged." While their North Side neighborhood boasts a wide array of shops, restaurants and food markets, their 'map twin' Maurice Perkins says he needs to travel far just to find a grocery store.

"They couldn't even imagine being in a community, or a community not having the things that, it's, I guess, basic necessities." And, Perkins says, they still stay in touch.

"There was, like, a genuine connection, right?

It was, like, nothing forced or fake." Now, Johnson is working to expand Folded Map, inspired to continue after the recent racial justice protests, and is convinced the only way to make progress is through relationship-building.

"We need to know that it's going to be difficult.

People are going to stumble and say stuff that isn't appropriate, because we haven't had these conversations collectively as a large public, and that's why I'm really excited about Folded Map's map twins' interviews being a model of how awkward but necessary those conversations are." The next iteration of Folded Map will include resources for people to help desegregate their own cities…from meeting their "map twin" to simply running errands in a different neighborhood.

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