ARTE NOIR EDITORIAL

ARTIST TONIKA LEWIS JOHNSON BRINGS LAND THEFT TO THE FOREFRONT

Take a stroll through the Englewood neighborhood in the South Side of Chicago and you'll encounter abandoned homes in various states of disrepair. Artist Tonika Lewis Johnson found herself wondering exactly how these lots came to be and her research brought her to Land Sale Contracts, made popular in the 1950s and 60s when Black homeowners were shut out of the traditional homebuying market. Offered what were essentially "rent-to-own" contracts for getting into their first homes, these deals included excessive monthly payments, and ownership was never actually transferred. “What happened during this crucial era, that of the making of America’s mass white middle class during the long postwar economic boom, was a systematic, legally sanctioned plunder of black wealth,” to the tune of over $3.2 billion.


Tonika began her research during a project entitled, “Folded Map,” which looked at Chicago’s historic segregation “and presented a possible way for us to disrupt it." From there, she started mapping out the individual homes and the people who were impacted by the LSC's, eventually creating her latest work, Inequity for Sale, an artistic, virtual, and physical exploration of homes sold on Land Sale Contracts, demonstrating how legalized theft in the past directly contributed to present inequity in Black communities. The multi-disciplinary project includes ten life-sized land markers in front of a selection of homes, a website documenting the homes and stories of residents, a podcast, and a virtual walking tour that connects this history with present-day conditions.


My goal with this project is to map the evidence of historic legalized theft in Greater Englewood and engage the public in action-oriented conversations that ultimately bring this unresolved crime to justice.

- TONIKA JOHNSON


Along with bringing these injustices to the forefront, Lewis Johnson plans to campaign for a collection of the homes to become an official City landmark. Her goal beyond that is to purchase one of the homes to convert into a community art center that can host a permanent exhibition for her Folded Map project. Photography from her Inequality for Sale project will be on view at Weinberg Newton Gallery from April 29th through July 19th, as part of Key Change, a group exhibition that explores a range of artistic interpretations on housing as an emotional, speculative, and even legal experience. To learn more about Tonika and her important work in support of the BLack community, visit inequityforsale.com.


Photograph of an abandoned home with a yellow sign in front reading "This Home Was Legally Stolen from a Black Resident"
Image courtesy Weinberg/Newton Gallery