It all started with an impulsive decision and having the time to create.
19-year-old content creator Arial Robinson wanted to put her own flavor on the 1970’s Black ABC’s created by the Society of Visual Education in Chicago, a project she discovered a year ago via Twitter.
Growing up and seeing a lack of representation, Robinson developed a love for telling black stories as a way to change the narrative.
“I went my whole life barely seeing the black experience in media and art. All of it was buried and wasn’t at the forefront.”
Robinson describes this project as “impulsive” as she rediscovered the tweet and immediately grabbed a notebook, listing A to Z down the lined paper and brainstorming words for each letter.
Robinson wanted each letter to be “timeless” so she stayed away from trendy words, saying “I want this to be a project that people could look at 50 years from now and be like wow, that’s very relevant for 2020 but it also makes sense for 2070.”
Examples of these timeless practices and cultural references include D for Dip and You’re Done, a common practice of sealing box braids and V is for Vote, showcasing the importance and history behind the black vote.
She dove into her knowledge of black culture and personal black experience but also checked out pop culture articles, black sayings and even urbandictionary.com to make sure she included as many perspectives as possible.
The project came to life within her Charlotte home. All of the items used in the photos were found under Robinson’s bathroom sink or in her sister’s closet. She said she didn’t have to buy anything to create these scenes and images.
She photographed scenes in the corner of her bedroom or wherever the action was taking place, sometimes catching moments that she didn’t originally plan to be used for letters.
“My sisters were oiling each other’s scalps. We didn’t plan that. I didn’t know what I was going to do for R but they were in there and had both done face masks.”
Robinson said that she wants to capture “all the raw and realness” in the moment. She doesn’t want her family to change anything such as cleaning the room or adjusting positions.
It took two consecutive weeks for Robinson to shoot and edit the images for the alphabet.
Once she completed a letter, she posted them on @quaranteenmag, an Instagram account she created at the beginning of quarantine. She also posted them on her personal Instagram account, @im.arial, where she gained 1,282 likes on the first post during the project.
The idea that started with a tweet, has been reshared and reposted all over social media. One post in particular, B for Bump the Ends, was reshared 634 times.
These pictures have transcended social media posts to being bound into a full color, hardcover book and flashcard set.
“I never planned for it to be a book. If people want it, I’m going to put it out there, I’m going to push it because I want myself to be successful” said Robinson.
Robinson’s success comes from telling stories, especially black stories. As a rising junior majoring in multimedia journalism at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University, she’s bettering her storytelling skills to tell the black experience on a larger level.
“It wasn’t until I was older that I began to see my story told…others were living with the same experiences as me and it brought me comfort knowing the versatility in blackness and art.”
For Robinson, she’s used quarantine to put these skills to the test because beforehand, she never had free time but she doesn’t want other creatives to feel pressured to push out content.
Her message to them is simple, “we are all on our own timelines.”
She spoke about her timeline and how she falls into creative blocks.
“If I’m ever in a hole where I just cannot create, I don’t force myself. I meditate, pray, listen to music to recenter myself and then I’ll create when I’m ready.”
Robinson’s main focus is selling her book and an upcoming project titled Brown Faces and Brown Spaces. So far, she’s sold over 200 books and plans to keep them on her website to make sure they are affordable and accessible to all.
Robinson’s work can be found on both of her Instagram pages, @ im.arial and @ quaranteenmag. The book can be purchased at www.arialrobinson.com/shop.
“If I can contribute to pushing the culture and bringing history to the light, I will. Especially for black little girls that are constantly being told who to be, how to feel and how to look.”