The phrase "we are not a monolith" has been ingrained in black culture ever since stereotypes were systematically used to minimize us as a people. Now, one artist is doing her part to combat stereotypes in a big way.
Meet Ajuan Mance, an Oakland-based artist who drew 1,001 portraits of black men in over six years, according to SF Gate.
Mance drew a portrait every other day, and finished her project this year. Entitled 1001 BLACK MEN, the portraits are of subjects ranging from strangers Mance saw on the street to her very own father.
"Everything I know about black men comes from my family," said Mance, who is an English professor at Mills College.
Through her work, Mance wanted to eliminate negative images surrounding black men, and wanted to make sure her work would represent the reality of black men in America.
"The notion of African American men as absent, as underachievers, could not gain traction in the environment I grew up in," she said, noting that her father was very involved in her upbringing and that her parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary not long ago.
"I was really focused on black people whose images you never see in mainstream media," she continued. "I drew a lot of black nerds."
Additionally, Mance learned to look beyond her own bubble and was able "see the complexity of lives that had less privilege than what I grew up" with, she said.
Mance had quite an experience sourcing her subjects. She quickly found that strangers were more than happy to be used in her project; in fact, all the men she asked agreed to sitting for reference photographs.
Mance, who has always been fascinated by masculinity, questioned whether the same would have been true if she'd asked hundreds of women.
"There's more at stake for women in their experience of being seen," noted Mance.
Mance describes the project as coming "from the same place as writing and conducting research," and said, "I don't own this experience, of being a black man. I had to really de-center, realize that I was the instrument."
And what is Mance up to next?
She's working on a documentary centering the black experience called Bay Area Heart and Soul, which will be a "snapshot of black community in this moment of rapid growth and displacement."
And book based upon her portrait series is also in the works! Until that drops, you can view the entire 1001 BLACK MEN collection here!