I am so honored to introduce you to one of my favorite Scorpios, and arts leaders, Jermaine Táron Bell! Jermaine is the first to be featured in the Creative Unions’ “Creative Highlights” blog series meant to highlight some of the incredible creatives in my community who inspire my work everyday!
Jermaine Táron Bell holds a B.F.A. in Graphic Design from the Maryland Institute College of Art. He is a visual designer who creates kick ass stationery, prints, and pins inspired by the African diaspora. In addition to his visual designs, he has had his hands in the advertising, marketing, and branding worlds doing everything from planning programs that broaden community outreach, to helping artists brand themselves through curatorial projects and social media.
Jermaine and I met at a fellowship program for arts administrators in Baltimore a few years ago. We knew we were going to be friends and #Scorpiosiblings from the start when we bonded over our shared goals while collaborating with our own communities to create art spaces for people of color designed to represent themselves beyond traditional methods. In facing these challenges, we learned it is important to be true to ourselves and not get caught up changing who we are, or silencing ourselves to fit into dominant molds that institutions are comfortable with.
Read below to see what he is up to, and get a deeper look into his thoughts on Black Queer Love, art, the institution of marriage, and the importance of intersectionality in LGBTQIA+ spaces. #Blackqueerlovestoriesmatter
Michelle: Hey Jermaine! Thank you so much for talking to me today! I am so excited to get real with you and ask a bunch of questions about art, love, marriage and more. I bet you haven’t talked about relationships on a blog yet, right?
Jermaine: Sure! I guess there is a first time for everything, let’s get real!
Michelle: In my world, all of those things intertwine! But before we dive deep AF into those things, lemme start off with one question...Have you seen any powerful movies lately? I haven’t stopped thinking about Moonlight ever since I saw it. I also just saw the SunDance movie called KIKI, which is about New York City’s underground voguing ballroom scene, and the importance of creating our own systems in a heteronormative world. Both of these movies blew my mind!
Jermaine: I obviously loved Moonlight! It actually reminds me a lot of my friend and frequent collaborator Kirk Shannon Butts’ film Blueprint in that it features beautiful talented black leads and sexual tension, but no actual sex. Powerful!
I haven’t seen KIKI yet, but, I LOVED Moonlight because It’s rare that I see a story that could mirror me or my friend’s lives on a big screen.
KIKI sounds a lot like Paris is Burning. Which is controversial of course because some people feel that Jennie Livingston exploited the people in the documentary, but it’s also instrumental to any young black gay person’s development because the subjects in the film are LEGENDARY!
Michelle: Yes, it is so important that we see ourselves not only in the visual arts industry, but also on the big screen to feel validated, and be heard. The way popular media tells our stories has a huge influence on how others may perceive us. And yes Livingston’s methods were HIGHLY problematic, but the creative team for KIKI seems to have taken a very different approach and actually partnered with Twiggy Pucci Garçon, one of the members of the ballroom scene, to develop the story and guide the process. I’d say the film has a very different and far more socially conscious tone than Paris is Burning. Both Moonlight and KIKI proved to me that it is so important for us creatives of color to tell our stories in new ways, and to keep fighting for seats at the table so everyone can benefit, even if it feels tokenizing in a mostly white industry, like film.
Although you are not involved in film, you do have the power of creating visuals and advertisements as a graphic designer. Other than your role as a designer, how do you define yourself as a creative in the broader sense?
Jermaine: I heard from Leslie King-Hammond, my former African Studies professor that in most African countries there isn’t a word for “art”. And, I’ve had conversations with other creatives of color that felt art school only complicated their relationships to art. Since graduating I’ve worked in advertising, but I also have had several community organizing roles like my current one as an Open Society Fellow where I am working with a local black artist to broaden his programming and marketing at his arts and community centered event space. This all grew from the marketing work that I did alongside my friend Kirk Shannon Butts of Flickeria to help get my partner’s foot into the contemporary art market.
Michelle: Back to Leslie King-Hammond’s point about how there is no word for art in African countries...I found that to be such a beautiful way to remind us that art is everywhere, art is a part of our daily lives, and that we are all inherently creative (even those who did not obtain an arts education). It seems like every aspect of your life is a work of art, including your relationship to your partner, Stephen. If love was a collaborative work of art, how would you describe your relationship?
Jermaine: I think about Stephen as a sensitive, caring person with a range of feelings and emotions. So, it’s more about respect and tenderness than anything else. With black gay men there is no blueprint for love. We have to define love on our own terms, the same can be said about our art practices. I make mistakes all the time, so does he and we learn from our mistakes and we mend them. We both learn on the job together!
Michelle: How long have you two been together?
Jermaine: This July will be 8 years!
Michelle: Sometimes I go to parties, and acquaintances just straight up ask me, “So when are you going to get married?!” Or my Latina friends tell me that their abuelitas or tias come up to them at Thanksgiving and Christmas asking them why they haven’t gotten married yet. Do you ever feel that kind of pressure to get married?
Jermaine: HA! I think that happens far less frequently with gay couples. I feel pressure to “be an adult”. Marriage is not something that really concerns us. Our intersectional lives as black gay men face several challenges before marriage can even be considered. There’s our physical bodies as black men that frighten people. There is being an outsider in the “LGBTQIA+ rainbow” which is largely centered around wealthy, white couples interests and needs. I think when people close their eyes and picture a gay man they see a sassy, fit, wealthy, white man who may not even date a person of color. My personality, partner, and body type may not be what comes to people’s minds when they hear the term “gay man”.
I believe it's because LGBTQIA+ people are still fighting to be seen as “normal”. So all of the other things outside of that scope like an all black, body positive, non-wealthy partnership aren’t top of mind to everyday people. Him and I are more focused on having amazing conversation, fitting in time in every week to Netflix and chill, and being present in one another’s and our friends and families lives.
Michelle: Yeah, it proves that conversations around the whole institution of marriage is so heteronormative and white. Philadelphia recently released a PRIDE flag that included a black and brown stripe to represent the inclusion of people of color.
Even though you do not feel pressured by others to get married, do you ever imagine getting married as a way to celebrate your beautiful relationship to Stephen with those you love the most? If you were to get married, what would be the ideal way to celebrate your union if you were to let go of all those dominant, heteronormative and eurocentric traditions?
Jermaine: I mean the flag thing just proves that we are a minority within a minority. If the LGBTQIA+ really is accepting and malleable, then what's wrong with the new stripes? As for a fantasy wedding, mine would be very short on ceremony and big on food!! To satiate the Type A Creative Director in me, I’d do something like unexpected food pairings... like my mother’s baked macaroni and cheese with a complimentary expensive red wine that would make some of my bougie friends AND my truck driving dad and brothers expand their palettes, and hopefully enjoy it. That’s a curatorial project that needs fine finessing right there! I just think that as gay men when we decide to have a wedding, which is traditionally not designed for two men, we have to be creative and tailor it to fit our lives. I can’t afford a destination wedding, or to feed 100 people, so I won't! But at the same time our celebration will have a lot of detail and love put into it. I don’t undervalue what the occasion marks, but, I can't adhere to heteronormative standards either, simply because it isn’t who we are! Basically it'd have to be unique to us in every way and still be bad & boujee.
Michelle: That sounds beautiful to me! Sounds like a curatorial project to me, with “juxtapositions”! (Art School inside jokes). I can imagine your dream wedding naturally being creative, especially since food is a culinary art. Like you said earlier, there is no term for art in African countries. Your whole life is art and your wedding sounds like one big piece of social practice or performance. You are utilizing your creativity to create your own way of doing a wedding outside of heteronormative standards. This is one of the main reasons why I developed Creative Unions, so that people can authentically tell their stories, in their own ways, through “art” that brings everyone together! #youdoyouboo!
So, what’s next?
Jermaine: I just want to keep working to get more retailers for my stationery and pins. And, basically get to the level of success of a typical character that Anne Hathaway might play in a predictable romantic comedy. I want a modern kitchen in a spacious brownstone in a leafy, urban neighborhood. I just want to be less basic, which I can do pretty easily since I’m a black gay man, and my road to that brownstone will inevitably include lots of hard work!
Michelle: I am confident you will get that brownstone in the near future, especially since I know you always work so hard to get what you want! Thank you so much for your real AF interview, I know you will inspire others to speak their truth! Keep imagining. Keep creating. Keep thriving.
Jermaine: Thanks for having me!
And that’s the 1st of our “Creatives Highlight” blog post series. I hope this interview inspired you to watch Moonlight and KIKI if you haven’t done so. I also hope you continue creating your own systems and ways of doing things. It’s what creatives like Jermaine do best: they utilize their creative problem solving skills to innovate and dismantle the world’s boxes in order to be the change they want to see in the world, while doing what they love best. You are the tastemaker.
Michelle Ivette Gomez is an arts professional with a love for romance and art, and a passion for bringing people together and telling stories through art. She received her MFA in Curatorial Practice from the Maryland Institute College of Art where she focused on co-creative curatorial practice and expanding traditional methods of exhibition presentation in collaboration with communities. As the Founder & Creative Director of Creative Unions Event Design LLC, the first event planning company dedicated to integrating contemporary art into life’s celebrations, she views marriage celebrations as specially curated art exhibitions that bring people together to celebrate and express unique love stories.