Common Ground

Folded Map: Tonika Johnson & Lee Bey

Weekly conversations with activists, social justice practitioners, and changemakers.


1 p.m. Eastern / 10 a.m. Pacific

Please join us for our sixth installment of Common Ground, featuring Chicago photographer Tonika Lewis Johnson and architectural and community historian Lee Bey for a conversation on the cultural life of Chicago’s South Side.

In this talk

Please join us for our sixth installment of Common Ground, with Tonika Lewis Johnson, photographer, educator, and lifelong resident of Chicago’s South Side neighborhood of Englewood, whose seminal work Folded Map (2017–) visually investigates the legacy and lived reality of urban segregation and economic disparity in Chicago while offering us a blueprint for another way to live in community together. She will be joined by special guest Lee Bey, architecture critic, community historian, and author of the book Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side (Northwestern University Press, 2019), a monograph which pays witness to the unsung architectural wonders of South Side neighborhoods, documenting heritage features largely absent from arts discourse by nature of sitting in historically Black neighborhoods.

Tune in for a conversation on 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 will 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 will be moderated by Malvika Jolly, and will close with a reading from poet and music journalist I.S. Jones.

About this series

At the start of quarantine, the Brooklyn Rail asked how might we stay connected to each other in a time of self-isolation? Now we ask: How can we stay involved and engaged in upholding our civic responsibility to one another across communities? How can we deploy this community built through the New Social Environment—through hundreds of conversations and meals shared over the past six months—to mobilize daily action for grassroots movements, social justice and equity projects, and for the political good of our most marginalized communities across the nation? Tune in Thursdays at 1pm for Common Ground, a new lunchtime series featuring weekly conversations with social justice practitioners, changemakers, and activists on how we can mobilize our daily actions to radically reimagine our democracy.

Belonging: Power, Place, and (Im)Possibilities is on view virtually and in-person by appointment at Chicago Justice Gallery.

Tonika Lewis Johnson

A photograph of Tonika Johnson
Tonika Lewis Johnson is a photographer, community organizer, and lifelong resident of Chicago’s South Side neighborhood of Englewood. Through her artistic practice, Johnson explores the legacy and lived reality of urban segregation in the city of Chicago, and documents the nuance and richness of Black life in her home community of Englewood. Her Folded Map project (2017–) visually investigates disparities among Chicago residents while also bringing residents into dialogue with one another across the divide of residential segregation. In the three years since its inception, Folded Map has been used as an educational, advocacy, and community organizing tool as well as a policy framework, and has continued to invite neighbors to open dialogue and question how we are all socially impacted by institutionalized racial conditions that aid in the segregation of our cities. Tonika Johnson was named a 2017 “Chicagoan of the Year” by Chicago magazine, for her photographic work documenting Englewood’s everyday beauty and countering the neighborhood’s pervasive media narrative of poverty and crime. She was named a 2019 “Leader for a New Chicago” by The Field Foundation of Illinois and was recently appointed a member of the Cultural Advisory Council of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events by the Chicago City Council. As a community organizer and creative placemaker, Tonika Johnson helped cofound the Resident Association of Greater Englewood (RAGE) in 2010, which works to mobilize people and resources to sustain positive change in Englewood through solution-based approaches, and is a lead cofounder of the Englewood Arts Collective which works to reframe the narrative of Englewood through visual language and community outreach. Her work has been exhibited at Rootworks Gallery, the Chicago Cultural Center, Harold Washington Library, the Loyola University Museum of Art, among others. Her most recent work, Belonging: Power, Place, and Impossibilities, is currently on view virtually and by appointment at Chicago Justice Gallery.

Lee Bey

A portrait of Lee Bey
Lee Bey is a photographer, writer, consultant, and lecturer whose work deals with the built environment and the often complex political, social, and racial forces that shape spaces and places. He previously served as deputy chief of staff for architecture and urban planning under former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, and is a sought-after expert on architectural history and the development of cities. He is a former architecture critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, and is a member of the Sun-Times editorial board, where he shapes the newspaper’s position on a variety of issues including urban planning, land use, and politics. He is the author of Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side (Northwestern University Press, October 2019), a book which showcases his architectural photography and social commentary, and teaches a class based on his book at the Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture which examines how race has historically shaped and continues to shape architecture and urban planning in Chicago’s South Side and other communities of color across the country. Bey’s architectural photography has appeared in The New York Times, Architectural Digest, Chicago Architect, CITE, Old House Journal, and the international design publications Bauwelt and Modulør, among others. His writing and reporting on architecture and urban design have been featured in Chicago magazine, Architect, Guardian Cities, The Houston Chronicle, and on WBEZ Chicago Public Radio, Fox News Chicago, Monocle Radio, and CBS2 News Chicago. Bey has been interviewed by a range of media outlets including The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, WGN-TV, TVMONDE Europe, and for the program That Far Corner: Frank Lloyd Wright in Los Angeles. He has lectured widely before audiences at the University of Hamburg, University of Michigan, City Club of Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, The National Trust for Historic Preservation, and more. Bey lives in Chicago’s historic Pullman community and has three adult daughters.

The Rail has a tradition of ending our conversations with a poetry reading, and we’re fortunate to have reading.

I.S. Jones is an American/Nigerian poet and music journalist. Her works have appeared in Guernica, Washington Square Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Rumpus, The Offing, Shade Literary Arts and elsewhere.

❤️ 🌈 We'd like to thank the The Terra Foundation for American Art for making these daily conversations possible, and for their support of our growing archive.