When Did You First Feel It? // A study of color, A space for conversation

In this work, When Did You First Feel It? // A study of color, A space for conversation. (Excerpt from Negrescence. adapted for SYLA, 2019), Miriha employs photography and audio to spark a connection to the viewer’s/listener’s own identity development journey.

As Black people we often grow through, under and over similar and overlapping experiences that sometimes allow us to feel like we can take an ownership over and police something that is also vast and unique to each individual. I asked Black identifying people to join me, in a park at the center of a Black neighborhood, to be photographed and questioned about their Blackness. Each individual photographed identifies as Black and was not told otherwise during the extent of this process. As Black people, we have been valued based on the shade of our skin. If you were lighter than the Brown Paper Bag an individual with power (white skin) possessed, you were deemed valuable. If you were darker, you were not. Utilizing a backdrop made from variously shaded Brown Paper Bags in juxtaposition with yellow and gold fabric, was the perfect setting to allow the sunlight and shadow to dance on the melanin of those captured. The laughter and mmhhm’s you hear in this piece are divine energy sent from the ancestors to invite you to recall a kee-kee. The Brown Paper Bags in the images are reminders that we are not yet, FREE. The confidence you hear, see and feel in this piece are reflections that your Blackness is what you decide it is, but it’s what they decide it is, too.

by Miriha Austin

Untitled, 2019, 35mm film, South Central, Los Angeles, California

Untitled, 2019, 35mm film, South Central, Los Angeles, California

Untitled, 2019, 35mm film, South Central, Los Angeles, California

Untitled, 2019, 35mm film, South Central, Los Angeles, California

Untitled, 2019, 35mm film, South Central, Los Angeles, California

Untitled, 2019, 35mm film, South Central, Los Angeles, California

Negrescence: Antoinette BrockMiriha Austin
00:00 / 00:41

in conversation with Antoinette Brock, 2019, audio, South Central, Los Angeles, California

Does an oppressed people, FORMED without consent, know what LIBERATION looks like?

FEELS like?

What ISN’T resistance to a people who know not what it feels to be, unbound? 


Shades of BLACK: colors that differ only slightly from PURE BLACK // Charcoal, EBONY, obsidian, onyx, sooty, MELANOID


BROWN: dark, burnished color

  • amber

  • beige

  • bronze

  • chestnut


  • Mahogany

  • TAN


As a form of UNITY, we identify as BLACK.

As a form of SEPARATION, we identify as BLACK.

As a form of LIBERATION, we identify as BLACK.

In conversation with Miriha Austin pertaining to AS A FORM OF:


Where were you mentally/emotionally/spiritually/physically when the thought of this piece manifested?

This project, in its entirety, has been unfolding and forming for a couple of years now. In essence, it began as experiences and manifested itself as shareable art along the way. My mental space when I began that physical manifestation was not stable. I think I was still in the midst of understanding that these experiences I was having, and continue to have, are racially charged and motivated and that in large part shaped my identity and the way in which I navigate the world. This isn’t a new idea or finding whatsoever, although we as Black identifying people each go through this step in our identity development process. When I completed this portion of Negrescence and adapted it for this submission to SYLA, I was in a much more self-aware and stable mental state than when I was previously tackling this project. In turn, this gave me a new outlook on the material, the processes in which I gathered information and the ways in which I interacted with both the materials used and the people participating. I think because I am analyzing and understanding with new patterns, interacting with people and things in a healthier way, I was able to apply a new layer of thinking and feeling to this portion of the project. That was spiritually enlightening to me. I was seeing self-care practices that I made an effort to put in to place a year ago, take shape in the way that I completed this project. Although not perfectly, I was able to see spiritual growth.

What does liberation look like? Feel like? Can liberation take the shape of resistance or vice versa? 

Liberation, like so many things we yearn to acquire, is in the eye of the beholder. It can look and feel like anything we want it to be as long as we decide it so. 


Can liberation and resistance be considered revolutionary acts? 

For Black people, for marginalized, underserved and underrepresented folks, anything that undermines the authority, pride and power of those currently holding it is a revolutionary act because it is an act of resistance. Liberation, in any form, is the ultimate revolutionary act. Free your mind…


In what ways can we collectively amplify and embrace the forms of liberation and resistance that are often overlooked? The everyday practices, the subconscious acts, the small steps that also feel liberating? 

This is a personal mission of mine, to find ways in which we can collectively and actively create change. Change that embraces and empowers acts of liberation and resistance. Changes that are long-lasting and widespread. I'll get back to you.


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