Afrofuturism art exhibit debuts at University YMCA


Cameron Krasucki

Artwork created by University assistant professor of graphic design and illustration Stacey Robinson line the walls of the University YMCA on Monday evening. The pieces will be on display to the public until Dec. 17.

By Carolina Garibay, buzz Editor

Artist and University assistant professor of graphic design and illustration Stacey Robinson said he grew up as a Black geek. He’d watch Star Trek and Star Wars, like many kids did when they were younger. But for Robinson, it wasn’t the idea of an optimistic future or that jaw-dropping explosion of the Death Star that caught his attention. It was the questionable reality that Lieutenant Uhura and Lando Calrissian are the only Black people in the future.

This is one of the reasons why Robinson is exploring Afrofuturism in his newest art exhibit with the theme “Future Spaces in Community Places,” which opened Thursday at the University YMCA.

Robinson said he defines Afrofuturism simply, as there are Black people in the future. He said he uses his talents and passions to create a future for himself.

“As an artist, I get to craft a future and put myself in it,” he said. “This is important because with this show, it’s an Afrofuturism-based show because that’s the type of work that I make. However, the conversation that we have around the ideas of Afrofuturism become a globally unifying conversation.”

Artwork created by University assistant professor of graphic design and illustration Stacey Robinson line the walls of the University YMCA on Monday evening. (Cameron Krasucki)

Robinson grew up in Albany, New York and said as far back as he can remember, he’d been making art. He moved to New York City and began working as a comic-making intern and eventually moved to North Carolina to work on his undergraduate degree and graphic design practice.

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After getting a graphic design job at a military newspaper through an acquaintance’s wife, Robinson ended up in Champaign through his friend and collaborator John Jennings, who went to grad school at the University and was a previous graphic design professor. After arriving in Champaign, Robinson said he saw a gap between the University campus and the C-U community, which is something he said he’s determined to close.

“There is a way that the community thinks about campus and a way that campus thinks about community, and I want to deconstruct that,” he said.

He said his work with the community lead to this exhibit, “Future Spaces in Community Places,” which he said is all about inviting the community to come together, view his work and generate a conversation about its themes.

“I’m thinking about these ways of telling our stories, bridging our community and making art really, really fast through a digital medium,” he said.

Robinson created this exhibit in collaboration with community advocate and poet Shaya Robinson and University clinical psychologist Kamau Grantham.

The exhibit features Shaya Robinson’s poetry and illustrations in a collection called “STARGAZERS,” which is about a young Black girl who uses her journal to build self-love and discover her ancestry. Shaya Robinson said she drew inspiration from her own experiences as someone who journals a lot.

Community advocate and poet Shaya Robinson’s artwork line the walls of the University YMCA on Monday Evening. (Cameron Krasucki)

“I think as a young Black girl I realized that Black and brown girls did not have a lot of representation,” she said. “(Journaling) really allowed me the opportunity to think about those things and write them out and then go back and reread them and really kind of feel those emotions of whatever it was that I was writing and be able to process them in a healthy way.”

Though Shaya Robinson is nervous for the community to see her pieces in the exhibit, she said she’s really excited too.

“Art, I feel like, it’s such a personal thing for everybody that creates it, so being able to share a piece of my heart with the world is kind of a beautiful thing for me,” she said.

Artist and University assistant professor of graphic design and illustration Stacey Robinson and community advocate and poet Shaya Robinson pose for a photo on Thursday in the University YMCA. (Carolina Garibay)

For Stacey Robinson, art is a way of giving back to the community, which he said he hopes others will take away from the exhibit.

“I want them to take away the encouragement to tell their own stories, but I want them to give more than I want them to take,” he said. “I feel like all of this is about giving, because we all have to build this community.”

Stacey Robinson’s art exhibit “Future Spaces in Community Places” is on view at the Murphy Gallery at the University YMCA now until Dec. 17.

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