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Critic’s Picks: Hương Ngô and Tonika Lewis Johnson

Catch these shows at Aspect/Ratio and Loyola University Museum of Art!

By Arts & Culture, Featured

Reap the Whirlwind, solo show with Hương Ngô. Photograph by Tom Van Eynde,
image courtesy the artist and Aspect/Ratio.

Hương Ngô, “Reap the Whirlwind”


864 North Ashland Ave., Chicago, IL 60622

Through 10/22; Weds. – Sat. 11 AM – 6 PM

Hương Ngô is in the midst of a Chicago moment. Her growing number of solo shows across the city’s DIY spaces, university museums, and commercial galleries mark the artist’s velocity across the mediums of performance, publications, and appropriated photography. Ngô’s primary subject, the anti-colonial movement across Indochina, continues in the multimedia exhibition “Reap the Whirlwind.” The exhibition, which takes its title from a pulp fiction book, investigates women’s involvement in the movement. Ngô moves fluidly between depictions of outright political agitators and anonymous women populating postcards, whose very act of staring back at the viewer is a declaration of defiance. These postcard portraits, blown up in brooding black serigraphs, are half visible at first glance. The only way to see here is to embrace some darkness as figures appear fully only with the gallery lights dimmed. Not to be missed is Ngô’s multi-volume artist book, which shares the exhibition’s title. In the thick volumes, Ngô expands intimacy with her subjects by moving the viewer from sight to touch. Heat sensitive ink obscures the text and the book begs for your hand print in order to be read. Pressing palm to page reveals the excerpts from the omnipresent pulp fiction publications. Even without the translation from their original French, the words blooming from beneath your hot hand speak of something sensual.  An alternative origin for the exhibition’s title, the Old Testament proverb “They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind,” reflects Ngô’s redemptive remembrance of resistance.

 Tonika Lewis Johnson, “Folded Map”

Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA)

820 North Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 

Through 10/20; Tues. 11 AM – 8 PM and Weds. – Sat. 11 AM – 6 PM

Tonika Lewis Johnson says that her whole life has led up to “Folded Map.” Her most recent project adeptly addresses inequity between Chicago neighborhoods with a friendly twist. By bringing together “map twins,” Johnson’s term for residents whose homes press against each other when the Chicago map is folded across Madison Avenue, the artist creates space for cursory but vulnerable conversations. Johnson, who grew up in Chicago, crossed between her home on the South Side and her school on the North Side daily, a route that revealed the disparity in her city created through redlining and other racist and classist policies. “Folded Map” is Johnson’s effort to reconcile the halves into a diverse community, a collection of friends across the divide. Through photographs of the “map twins”’ homes, a floor to ceiling interactive display for visitors to find their own “map twin,” and video of the conversations between them, Johnson creates a moment to recognize the minor victory of connection across Chicago’s boundaries. A video in the exhibition captures conversations between “map twins” in each others’ homes. They chat casually about what their various neighborhoods need, why they live where they live, and what meeting someone from across the proverbial tracks has meant for them. “We look different. We live different places,” said one “Folded Map” participant, “but we want the same things. It’s validating.”





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