Posts tagged
with segregation


From Chicago to Detroit, Yashua Klos Presents Black Resilience, Defiance, and Tenderness

January 30, 2023

Grace Ebert

A photo of a portrait of a woman bisected by blocks of wood

“You See Through It All” (2021), paper construction of woodblock prints and graphite on archival paper, 41 x 54.5 inches. All images © Yashua Klos, shared with permission

Chicago continues to rank among the most segregated cities in the United States, with Black and brown populations living across the south and west sides that lack the investment and resources of the white-dominated northern neighborhoods. Caused by more than a century’s worth of inequitable governance, redlining, and various forms of discrimination, this enduring racial separation has irrevocably shaped the city and its residents, impacting those who came to the area during the Great Migration and those who call it home still today. It’s often said that the history of Chicago is also the history of segregation.

This infamous legacy is an essential component of Yashua Klos’s evolution as an artist. “I’m from the city of Chicago, and Chicago’s urban planning was designed for segregation, to separate Black and white,” he shares with Colossal. “That segregation is baked into the ‘redlining’ housing ownership policies and the geography of the city.”


A photo of a collaged portrait of a man with blocks bisecting his face

“Your Strength Is In Your Shadow” (2021), paper construction of woodblock prints and graphite on archival paper, 41.5 x 51 inches

Now based in the Bronx, Klos frequently reflects on his hometown and brings the gridded structure of its streets into his works. A 2021 solo show at UTA Artist Space exhibited portraits bisected by angular blocks textured like wood, brick, and cinder, allowing fragments of the uniform roadways to emerge through facial features. “In art history, the grid is a kind of tool for optical democracy. There’s no visual hierarchy in a grid—you can enter any space at any time. So, I’m interested in that grid’s proposal of democracy and how that’s failed Black folks, especially where I’m from and how Chicago is constructed,” he says.

The collaged portraits evoke the ways identities are an amalgam of both genetics and surrounding influences. They mimic three-dimensional forms that surface from the flat plane of the paper, and Klos portrays the subjects as breaking free from constraint or relying on the structure for support. “I’m considering Black folks who are forming a defiant sense of self in order to survive in an often unjust environment. This is why these head forms often appear built of construction materials and suggest that they are sculptures or even monuments,” the artist writes, referencing the art historical use of statues and portraits to convey value and respect.


A wood-like rendering of an upturned hand holding blue flowers

“Vein Vine” (2021), paper construction of woodblock prints, graphite, spray paint, and Japanese rice paper on stretched canvas, 84 x 60 inches

While Klos spent his upbringing in Chicago, his father’s family has ties to Detroit, particularly the car industry and Ford plant where many relatives worked. Like his portraiture, the artist’s woodblock prints of singular, upturned hands allow this personal history to converge with broader themes of familial love and political resilience. The appendages grasp botanicals native to Michigan and blocks floating nearby as they deny “work in order to hold flowers,” he says. “Here, I’ve found (an) opportunity to explore themes of nurturing, tenderness, generosity, and self-care.”

To explore an archive of Klos’s works, visit his site and Instagram


A photo of a framed collage of a hand grasping blue flowers

“Your Roots Hold On To You” (2022), paper construction of woodblock prints on muslin and Japanese rice paper, acrylic paint on paper, 60 x 75.5 inches

A photo of a colalged portrait of a man with wood blocks bisecting his face

“You Built Your Shelter From Shadows” (2021), paper construction of woodblock prints and graphite on archival paper, 42 x 50.5 inches

A photo of a collaged hand holding blue flowers

“We Hold The Wildflowers”

A photo of a collage of a hand holding blocks

“Diagram of How She Hold It All Together” (2021), paper construction of woodblock prints and graphite on archival Japanese rice paper, 52 x 53 inches





Ride EJ Hill’s Bubblegum Pink Roller Coaster Through a Mass MoCA Gallery

November 15, 2022

Grace Ebert

A photo of a person riding a pink roller coaster in a gallery

“Brava!” (2022), installation view at Mass MoCA. All images courtesy of Mass MoCA, shared with permission

Throughout the Jim Crow era, Black people were often barred entry to recreation spaces like public swimming pools and amusement parks. As these sites of leisure and joy were officially desegregated following the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case, those who continued to champion separation imposed new restrictions to control access to such areas. This included charging high fees to even enter the parks rather than smaller prices per ride, a practice that’s still widely in use today and has proliferated to other cultural arenas like museums.

Artist EJ Hill considers the racialized legacy of such entertainment through Brake Run Helix, the Los Angeles-based artist’s largest solo show to date and first at an institution. On view through January 2024 at the Massachusettes Museum of Contemporary Art, the exhibition revolves around the roller coaster as a way to excavate the history of identity, recreation, and pleasure. Through sculptures, installations, paintings, and smaller works, Hill considers the rides “public monuments to the possibility of attaining joy,” a feeling that is necessary for creating an equitable society.

The center of Brake Run Helix—this title references the mechanisms that slow or stop the cars and the 360-degree turn within the track—is a 260-foot bubblegum pink roller coaster. “Brava!” allows for a single rider, who emerges on a bright blue cart through a velvet curtain before plummeting a few feet and riding the undulating architecture through the Building 5 gallery.


A photo of a person riding a pink roller coaster in a gallery

Hill sees these rides as a sort of solo performance by museum visitors, who are propelled by gravity around the course before halting on a wooden stage in front of viewers. “I’m no longer interested in being the one to perform for a ravenous audience who wants to either celebrate me or consume me,” the artist told The New York Times in reference to earlier projects that involved him standing or lying atop an artwork for long periods. “I’m making this elaborate stage for other people to perform while I collect myself and recharge.”

Hill’s manner of inhabiting the world as a Black, queer person is also reflected in the pastel pink that runs throughout the exhibition, considering the pigment is traditionally associated with the feminine. “I feel like I understand bodily threat in a very real way. Every day when I leave my place, the threat to my bodily existence is palpable,” he said in that same interview, sharing that the interactive installation is a way “to bring people as much as I can to understanding what that feels like, but in a space of joy, of being a human in the world.”

For more of Hill’s multi-disciplinary works, visit his site and Instagram.


A photo of a pink roller coaster in a gallery

A photo of pink roller coasters in a gallery

A photo of a pink roller coaster in a gallery

A photo of a pink roller coaster in a gallery viewed through a wooden entrance

A photo of a person riding a pink roller coaster in a gallery




Interview: Tonika Johnson Discusses the Folded Map Project, Which Brings Residents Together to Discuss Chicago’s Segregated Neighborhoods

February 8, 2021

Paulette Beete

Nanette, an Englewood resident, sits on and Wade’s porch in Edgewater. All images © Tonika Johnson, shared with permission

Though not Chicago’s true geographic center, the intersection of Madison Street, which runs east to west, and State Street, which runs north to south, is the central point for the city’s address system. Chicago native Tonika Johnson, however, has been viscerally aware that the north-south dividing line is not a mere postal distinction since she was a teenaged photographer, an experience she discusses in the latest interview supported by Colossal Members.

Doing this project and talking to so many people across racial lines has taught me that it’s like this self-perpetuating, self-fulfilling prophecy of segregation. If your worlds are so separate, you’re only going to understand it as much as your lived experience allows. You can find truth in whatever silly thing you think because you don’t have anything to challenge it.

Trained as a photojournalist, Johnson ultimately decided against going into the field, choosing instead to remain an enthusiastic—and skilled—hobbyist. She created the Folded Map Project, which uses photography as a starting point to explore the creation of segregated neighborhoods in Chicago, and the systemic racism in urban planning, real estate development, and resource allocation that has allowed that segregation to persist.

The basis of the project is Johnson’s stark photographs of map twins—that is, houses that have the same address but on different sides of the city. Johnson initially had planned to just display the map twin photos side-by-side, but as she met the people whose homes she was photographing, she decided to use her journalism skills to facilitate recorded conversations between the occupants.

Read the full interview with Johnson to dive into the difference between art and photojournalism, the power of uncomfortable conversations, and why she’s bringing history to light.


Left: 6720 South Ashland. Right: 6720 North Ashland

Wade, an Edgewater resident, sits on Nanette’s porch in Englewood.