Let Black Girls Be Soft
by Miriha Austin
"This work was not created with the title in mind. I was originally just trying my hand at beauty and fashion work. In the process of that work I shot both black models and white models. With Devanie, the model photographed in this series, she didn’t realize she wasn’t being soft with me and I don’t think I did either. This set is the last look of the four different looks that day. This was the least “elegant” look we shot and ironically it was the first look that she gave me those soft eyes and then the grin. I felt that grin as much as she did. I don’t think either of us were taking the final look as seriously as the others, we were just talking at that point, guards down, kee-kee’ing, you know. These photos were the result. I found that it came naturally to the white women to be softer as soon as we began shooting. With the black models, I had to engage in conversation and break through a different barrier as opposed to the white models I was working with at the time. I’ve always loved all of the photos taken that day, but 4 years later while cleaning an old hard drive, I see them differently. I look back at that moment as much more now. I am so much more aware of my own allowance of softness and how I take control of it. In turn, it allows me to see other black women begging to be allowed to be soft. Begging themselves to break through that wall, unlearn that condition, and just be free. Sometimes we are begging those around us and as friends and loved ones, we must learn to Let Black Girls Be Soft."
Miriha Austin // Mona Kahlo is a multidisciplinary artist communicating through photography, curation, conversation through writing, and community organizing. Raised outside of chaos but growing to realize she was only shielded from what sat right in front of her, Miriha is only creating as she journeys through healing her own traumas. She aims to create community and cultivate platforms for youth artists, entrepreneurs, and folkalizers in undeserved areas as well as contribute in healing processes through conversations awakened by her work.
"I got my first camera, a little pink point and shoot my parents gifted me. From then on, I became the girl with the camera. I was that friend that was taking the best group photos and profile pictures for our Facebooks etc. I stuck with it and decided that photography was my thing. Fast forward a few more phases and photography is only a piece of the creative puzzle that fulfills me. I am a creative, completely. Growing up I wasn’t immersed in art. My parents didn’t take me to art museums and I didn’t travel anywhere special. I had to journey through things to find my own answers and create jobs that i didn’t know existed. Meaning, because I wasn't introduced to spaces like fine art museums and galleries and my parents don't have favorite authors or filmmakers so I wasn't exposed to careers like curation and art production or creative direction. I didn't know that careers could overlap and be self defined. When I started to step into the art world and I announced I wanted to go to art school and be a photographer my parents were only as supportive as they could be without understanding the world I wanted so badly to be part of. "
on commodification: I feel the media and pop culture “tastemakers” commodify the art of the marginalized. Let’s use black/brown people to start… skinny, rich, white girls all around the world are tanning their skin, rocking cornrows, box braids, bantu knots and baby hairs all while screaming the N-word at their favorite rap show. Our culture is our art and it is being stolen and sold back to us for a profit.
on marginalized voices: Our voices need to be heard not only because art is revolutionary and we need a revolution but because we are human. We educate and protest and revolutionize in many ways and we need to be both SEEN and HEARD doing it.
a word: At times, it can be hard for me to give advice because I don’t always feel that I have much under my belt to give. I have not done too many large-scale things, and then I stop and look at my resume. I have a long list of projects that I've played small but integral parts in and that keeps me going. So, my advice would be to celebrate the small victories, take the small but meaningful jobs and work with as many people as you can that you can learn from.
on neglected topics in marginalized communities: Mental health issues due to past traumas. We are constantly suffering from past trauma and in the black and brown community we have to be strong and if you aren’t strong you’re crazy. We need to talk about that grey area we keep glancing over. We need to be allowed to battle our demons and have support if we don’t win the first time. That’s what I need.