Jerron Herman On Art & The Joy Of Advocacy

“When I think about how I can contribute to society, art provides the best container for impactful viscerality.”

Jerron Heman. Photo Filip Wolak

Jerron Herman is an interdisciplinary artist based in New York City creating through dance, text, and visual storytelling. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jerron began his career pursuing performance and playwriting. Jerron has performed at venues like Lincoln Center and The Whitney Museum of Art, resulting in the New York Times calling him, “the inexhaustible Mr. Herman.” As a strong advocate for disabled athletes and performers, his performances have begun to shed light on an often overlooked niche of performance. 

BA&D: Tell us a bit about yourself

Jerron Herman: I’m a creative in the traditional sense – I vie for careers like Geoffrey Holder’s, ones where the artist is ‘allowed’ to express their multiplicity. I think we’re in a renaissance of that. So, I dance, write, vocalize, model, collaborate, adjudicate panels. I’ve always wanted to be available to the arts community in any way it would have me. I’m currently rehearsing and building work with Kinetic Light for a piece called Wired. In addition, my own practice is burgeoning and I was blessed to be named for three fellowships this year: Ford Foundation and Mellon Foundation’s Disability Futures Fellowship, Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship, and Foundation for Contemporary Arts’ Grants to Artist Award, all to support my explorations in Dance. 

Photo credit/caption: iwbwye...: Mengwen Cao, color photo of a dark skinned black man in a metallic two piece suit in front of onlooking audience.
Jerron Heman. Photo Mengwen Cao.

“Growing up I was surrounded by storytelling and atypical rituals which supported my right to an imagination.”

 BA&D: Where did you grow up and what role did creativity play growing up?

Jerron Herman: My parents were very adamant about exposing my older brother and I to culture. While we regularly attended the theatre, took trips and the like, my parents also influenced me by filling our home with Black art and a general integrity with design. Growing up I was surrounded by storytelling and atypical rituals which supported my right to an imagination. Early on, I witnessed ways of professionalising art among my kin – whether it was my brother opening a show as a lead actor or my parents delivering one of their designs to a client – and I suppose that made becoming a professional artist, subconsciously, possible.  

I grew up in the Bay Area of California and it was really a fertile, creative play space. My little hamlet in the East Bay, Alameda, was this idyllic environment replete with grand Victorians and manicured parks. The stuff of upper-middle class dreams.  

My family’s collective understanding of disability also informed my sense of play: I was treated as integrally whole and we celebrated the creative accommodations we’d discover along the way. I always believed I had access to the canon like anyone else, but could offer a difference. 

BA&D: Why this career path?  

Jerron Herman: When I think about how I can contribute to society, art provides the best container for impactful viscerality. I think I want to remind people how to access their bodies differently, or anew, in my works. I can create experiences that reveal the primacies of certain truths, regardless of their context, and posit who has access to them. I often do this by assessing the historical/cultural understanding of a word or phrase. How we have treated this particular idea.  

In my creative process I often draw inspiration from definition, from scholarship, as a means to ground my new visions. While I do always wish to create something new, I want to be in conversation with the past. Previous contexts gave us our contemporized theories, after all. Our legacies are intertwined. This approach helps me understand all the facts and question, what is truly new? 

BA&D: From a creative perspective, what was your biggest challenge and highlight in the last year?

Jerron Herman: My biggest challenge was being still. I had already planned for 2020 to be a considerably “smaller” year anyway. I was going to focus on craft and rejuvenation so, when we were globally grounded I became incensed. I didn’t have a choice but to sit still. I chose to honour the slowing and even refused some commissions that weren’t honouring the reality of a pandemic. I grew in my perspective on refusal and got clear on my boundaries. I was still able to be creatively generous and generative in ways that defied industry output. I attended Zoom parties and slept until noon sometimes, I prepared work samples and sat with remembering times when hundreds of people could be present at once.  

A highlight would be to receive the professional and artistic support from so many at a time I produced “the least”, effectively upending my values with productivity. In all, I learned to process, to give myself time to grieve, reflect, activate, and rest. I felt the most full in 2020 because the year and I simultaneously dictated how it would unfold. An unlikely partnership.  

For the next year, I’m carrying over my advocacy of disability aesthetics that’s been demonstrated in the use of virtual spaces and the invigorated commitment to thinking of the body as worthy. These principles are being embraced by all people.  

BA&D: Looking ahead – what are you working on?  

Jerron Herman: I’m creating my ethos as an independent artist, trying to be generous and thoughtful while asserting my visions. It’s a new tough road, but I’m being met with grace. I’m currently working on a new piece with Kinetic Light called Wired about the historical, racial, disability, and gendered implications of the creation and use of barbed wire in America.  

In addition, I’m hoping to strengthen my voice over this next year through continued artistic exploration, but also scholarship and craft-work. I get as much pleasure in research as I do in the studio and I want to allow time for ideas and concepts to marinate before I perform them. The next year looks very optimistic in terms of possibility. I will be supported on different fronts and allowed the ability to dream without many constraints. I’ll be employed, deployed, and inspired, whether the outside world makes it so or I do. 

BA&D: What does your social distancing reading and watch list include? 

Jerron Herman: I’ve been trying to finish Murakami’s The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, to little avail, but soon! I’ve started Legacy Russell’s Glitch Feminism Manifesto, but my real reading has been Twitter which has given me unending bouts of anxiety and frustration. Why do I even bother?  

Thanks to my roommates my watching fare has been eclectic to say the least – from  Real Housewives of Atlanta to The Staircase to Bonnie & Clyde. As a household we’re looking for true storytelling and it can come in the strangest of places. My binge game is strong, early on I devoured Ozark and re-watched favourites (British, no less) like Downton AbbeyChewing Gum, Luther, and Absolutely Fabulous. I was always an avid TV watcher as a kid and the pandemic has ignited my adolescent habits. 

Photo credit: Jerron 5.25...: Dan Kim, color photo of a dark skinned black man shirtless in profile, extending one arm out while the other is curled inward.
Jerron Heman. Photo Dan Kim