Artist Interview: Jharmaine Boyd
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Come&Live! artist Jharmaine Boyd, about being a performance artist for Jesus in Chicago. It was so encouraging to hear the many different ways God has moved in her life, and is continuing to develop her art. Both her perspective and her passion for the Cross are so refreshing, and we're excited to have her as part of our artist community!
Can you share with us, the Come&Live! Community, who you are and where you’re from?
My name is Jharmaine Boyd, and I’m from Chicago - born and raised here. I went to school in Iowa, came back to Chicago, lived in DC for about five years after that, and now I am back in Chicago again. This is my home now.
You describe yourself as a performance artist. Can you explain what that involves?
I describe myself as a performance artist because I weave in so many different elements. It isn’t strictly poetry or spoken word, or just acting. It’s a mixture of being a little bit poetic, a good chunk of storytelling, and it’s extremely dramatic. It also involves music - very cinematic, ambient music that could literally be used for movie scores - and sometimes costumes and props, too.
What got you on the path of doing performance art?
When God saved me, He wanted to address the sexual abuse issues from my past, and I didn’t understand why it was relevant to anything spiritual. Of course, looking back, and as the Lord has continued to mature me, I now understand why. But at the time, I didn’t know how to talk about this because I’d never talked about it before. I didn’t even know how to begin. Then, I felt God say, “Tell me in a poem; just do it that way - just act it out.” So I did, and it became something I did privately with God. Through that process, and through speaking to God about other things in my life, these poems almost became like prayers, but they were totally dramatic - that’s just who I am.
One day, I was at an open mic and the MC was pleading with the audience, saying, “It doesn't matter what talent you have, just come up and do something.” I felt so bad for him and I was like, “You know, I can probably do one of these things that I have done in my office.” And I did it! Afterwards, he just looked at me and was like, “You don’t perform, ever?” and I was like, “No!” He said, “You should keep doing this.” So I started going to all these open mics in the city of DC. I’d perform this one piece that I had, and just use it to tell people about a poetry event I was organizing. But then people wanted to start booking me places and I hadn’t been planning on doing that. So, it started to become this ”thing”. It just became, and it is still becoming, what God wants it to be. It has been a really great journey.
How did you move from being gifted in writing and performing, to using your pieces to tell people about Jesus?
One day, I was going back and forth with the Lord, saying, “I don’t understand why doors in Christian settings aren’t opening. Is this something you really want me doing? Show me where you want me to be.” Then I was in a car listening to Ephesians on this audio bible, and we were in the third chapter. There’s this part, and I’m definitely paraphrasing here, where Paul talked about being the least of all saints, where God has allowed him to preach to the Gentiles the mysteries of Christ. I just broke down in the car, and I was like, “God, I have been taking things for granted! You don’t want me to be with the believers!”
Believers need art, but that is not where God is calling me. I needed to be OK with that, because all the other doors were opening, Katie. I was asking, “Why am I going to this place!? Why do you want me to go to this burlesque show!?” It just wasn’t making any sense. Then, I realized how in Paul’s story, God called him to preach to the Gentiles, even though he was a Jew. This is what God showed me: I have given you this gift, not just to sanctify you - which it does - but so you can go out to, for lack of better terms, ”the Gentiles.” That’s how it became this ministry. It was through God’s Word, and God using that to confirm it to me by His Spirit.
How do you use your art and your storytelling to share Jesus with people?
Most of my art is very explicit and I mention Jesus’ name. I am the kind of artist that leans more toward sharing the Gospel while I’m on stage, because there is no guarantee that someone will come and speak to me after the show. With this past show, I’ve learned to use a theme to bridge my pieces together and get to the Gospel at the end. My pieces can seem isolated because each one is so different, you know. I have a piece about my struggles with alcoholism, a piece about sexual abuse, one about being Christ’s bride, and others about my struggles with being a woman, and with beauty standards - so, how do I bring all this together? And if you’re a person that hasn’t experienced any of this, how do I show you that you need Jesus - that we all need Him? I have learned to do that through bringing in a topic. If I make it “forgiveness,” I can talk about how the world defines forgiveness, and then I can bring in the biblical truth about forgiveness. It isn’t just about feeling a certain way, but it is canceling a debt. Then bringing the audience to the place where I explain that ultimately, the reason I can do this, or have the power to do this, is because of Jesus... and I still need to be forgiven, and you still need to be forgiven. Romans 10 is ringing in my ear, saying, “How will they know if no one tells them?”
Do you feel that the audience you’re in front of is receptive to your story? Are they open to the Gospel when you share it?
I think about artists like Justin Bieber or Chance the Rapper - artists that are relevant and have no qualms about talking about God. They don’t hesitate, and they talk about who He is. I’m not saying they know Him or they don’t, but they are in these secular arenas, being unashamed. I think about some Christian artists who struggle with that - artists that I know love God and know Him, but struggle to share about Him.
All this is to say: people have walked out on my performances, and that is expected. But the majority of the time, they are receptive because it is so alarming - because nobody does this. Nobody comes on to an open mic, to this space, to talk about Jesus Christ. That just does not happen. Yet, the darkest places are the ones that give the standing ovations the most. It’s alarming, and it kind of makes sense to me, yet also kind of doesn’t - you know?
It’s in the darkest places that a lot of people are searching for something to take away that darkness. It’s awesome that in those times, God gives you the opportunity to bring that light.
Mmm. That’s real. I’m going to be chewing on that for a while.
Can you share a testimony of how God has used you and your performances?
I was going to do a show earlier this year, and the organizers found out that I was a believer. I had a three piece set, but they told me I was only allowed to play one piece. I would have no time to get into the Gospel or anything, and they told me that I couldn't speak about it. I am naturally bent towards rebellion - I mean, we all are - but I am like a rebel without a cause, and I really had to wrestle with my heart. I talked to Maureen [C&L! Artist Relations Director, and mentor] about it, and asked her what I should do. She was so encouraging, and said that I shouldn’t be disrespectful, but to just be lead by the Spirit. I did what they asked of me, and changed the words in my piece a little to make sure that I at least said Christ’s name. Afterwards, a girl came up to me and said “I just got raped two weeks ago on Monday, and I walked away from the Church. But I want you to pray for me.” I was like, “What?! God knew, and He was like, ‘This was the only piece you needed to perform, because I wanted you here for this girl. I didn’t want you to do anything else’.” That’s why I love what I do, because I get to see God do these miraculous things.
I love when He does things like that! I know you also have a huge heart for women and discipleship, Jharmaine. How does that play out in your day to day life?
It’s so funny, because I was someone who didn’t like girls growing up. I was just believing the lies from the enemy that women are catty and whiney, and that they aren’t real or authentic. But when the Lord saved me, He softened my heart, and allowed me to heal from bad relationships I’d had with women, and from my own sin. Now, I believe that the Lord has gifted me, to where women just want to share super deep stuff with me. I started a Bible study in DC, and we were walking through the book of Philippians. I began to meet with women who love God and love people, and desire to grow in the knowledge of God, but struggle with reading a text in context. Or who take a scripture and apply it to their situation, without seeing who it was written to or why God allowed them to be inspired. We just began going through the steps and life together.
Now, I have a few women that I’ve met here in Chicago, that I desire to do a Bible study with. I’m currently doing “life on life discipleship” with a non-believer, someone who desires to grow in her faith. I also live with a few women that are a little bit younger than me, who glean from me, and who I also learn from, who are solid believers. I am in a different dynamic here than I was in DC. I’ve been praying and seeking God about what to do. I’m trying to be very wise with my time. My prayer is, “Alright God, I desire to have these Bible studies, to walk through this book with the women I have in mind. Help me find space in my life.”
I heard that you recently completed a project you’ve been working on for quite a while. Can you tell us about it?
It’s a piece called “For Sunday Dinner,” about my struggles with beauty, worth, and value as a woman. In it, I kind of personify my desire for male attention as eating food - and God has shown me that what I was eating was killing me. I wrote this piece two years ago, and I’ve learned through this experience how long it takes to create good art. It was originally titled something totally different, and I filmed it once before, but what came out on screen just wasn’t right. So, I went back to square one, changed some words and got different music. I am praying that I can release the video in January.
I’m excited to see it, and we’ll share details about the release with the Come&Live! Community as the date gets closer. Besides this new project, how can we as a community be praying for you? You mentioned wanting to manage your time differently, so you can start a Bible study with women in Chicago. Is there anything else?
You can also pray for good partnerships. Everybody knows that making excellent art takes more than one person, two people or even three. It involves so many moving pieces! As I am growing as an artist, I have a desire to make better art, and I can’t do it by myself because I’m not skilled in videography or in creating music scores.
The other things you really just hit on the head. Please be praying for a Bible study in Chicago, and this new project. Also be praying for shows for me. I have a number of them coming up here in Chicago, and a few in DC. Just pray for vision and how God wants the performances to be, because each one is so different. I don’t know who’s in the audience, but God knows, and I trust that. I am just praying that I lean into that trust and that wisdom, and not on my own understanding of how I think things should be.