Mills Professor of English Uses Art to Depict Black Men’s Truth

Oakland, CA—April 24, 2018

1001 black menBeginning with a simple sketch of an African-American man in black and white, Mills Professor of English Ajuan Mance set out on a six-year artistic journey to depict black men in America. Her story was recently featured on KPIX 5. Mance began drawing black men because she felt the way they were portrayed in society was distorted and unfair.

Adding more portraits to her collection over the years—some showcasing vivid colors, others in subtle shades—one portrait became two, then three, and so many more. She drew inspiration from everyday life, sketching the men she saw in coffee shops, at the library and riding on the train.

“To really capture some aspect of the diversity of black men’s experiences, I’d need a thousand drawings. I’d need to do it for multiple years,” she said. “I thought about all the black men I see every day—really great people. They’re the men who populate my community. And I thought I wanted to see more of those men.”

Midway through the project, in the middle of the Black Lives Matter movement, Mance’s work briefly took a deeply personal and political turn as she began to sketch black men she’d got to know—not only in life but in death. In 2017, Mance decided the final portrait in her project would be the man she admires most, her father. She is planning an exhibit sometime this summer, where she hopes to display all 1,001 of her portraits together for the first time.