Apple highlights artist chronicling historical Black figures for Juneteenth

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Ahead of Juneteenth, Apple has highlighted an artist who created a series of digital drawings with iPad Pro and Apple Pencil celebrating and chronicling Black figures throughout U.S. history.

The iPhone maker shined a spotlight on Ajuan Mance — an illustrator, comic creator, and scholar — and her series dubbed "The Ancestors' Juneteenth," which features historical Black figures in modern-day settings.

"Their activism challenged prevailing systems and policies that limited when and how Black people could move through the world," Mance said.

Mance starts the digital drawings on paper before snapping an image using Adobe Scan on iPad Pro. From there, she uses Procreate, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Fresco to color her scanned images.

The artist's process is similar to comic book work, which involves scanning images in non-photo blue. From there, Mance uses an Apple Pencil to add layers of color to her works of art. Before using an iPad Pro, she had to rely on a light table and analog tools.

Mance said that Apple's tablet and stylus combo allows her to zoom in all the way on a snippet of a giant canvas. That's useful for an artist who works on as large of a scale as she does.

"iPad and Apple Pencil make it easy for me to draw, manipulate, and add color and effects at the micro level," she says. "So the closer people look, the more they will see."

As part of her Juneteenth series, Mance drew Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman on the banks of the Combahee River. The series places historical figures in present-day settings to "reflect on Black people's journey from the 19th to the 21st century."

"They were pioneers for whom freedom of movement was so much a part of their impact that they hold this iconic role in our minds," Mance said. "All of the marching Rosa Parks did, getting arrested, walking up the courthouse steps, so that we have less obstacles today than we did during her lifetime; and Harriet Tubman, walking from the South to the North at least 13 times to escort other Black people to freedom — both of these women deserve a respite. I thought that all they might want to do today is sit by the river, take a load off of their feet, and just let the water do the moving."

In addition to being an artist, Mance teaches African American literature at Mills College in Oakland, California. She also describes herself as a "history detective" that spends hours digging through archives to find the unknown in 19th-century Black experience.

The goal of the "The Ancestors' Juneteenth," which is a work of speculative fiction, is to humanize historical figures across different periods of time.

"My goal is to really humanize them," Mance explains. "These are esteemed people who I respect, but I also think we need to understand them and experience them as people who walked the earth the same way that we do. That creates a sense of intimacy with our history that I find really empowering and inspiring."

Juneteenth is a federal holiday in the U.S. that commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African American people.