Essay

Home Beyond Vanishing Points

by Orlando Ferrand

I learned about the Bronx Artist Documentary Project (BxADP) by word of mouth first, followed by an email form Charlie Vasquez, director of the Writers’ Center at the Bronx Council on the Arts (BCA). We had recently brought to completion a series of memoir writing workshops under the auspices of the BCA, which resulted from the deployment of accomplished writers to various areas of The Bronx. These workshops concluded in the last week of May, 2014, but perhaps there was already in the air a sort of collaborative spirit springing out of this borough’s thirst for rejuvenation, re-invention, and creation, since the BxADP, masterminded by Daniel Hauben and Judy Lane, was already gathering momentum at that time.

I am not new to The Bronx. As a matter of fact, I have lived here for more than a decade. The Bronx became my “promised land,” and infused me with a sense of identity and freedom I never experienced as a child and adolescent in my native Cuba. After immigrating to the U.S. in 1992, I moved to Manhattan and lived under that island’s glazed veneer of apparent glamour and illusion that concealed many capsized dreams throughout my twenties and thirties.

My rite of passage eventually brought me to the Boogie Down, and it was here, in The Bronx, where I was rendered capable of articulating a sense of home, spiritual fulfillment, and both linguistic and artistic integrity. We are a deliciously clever, multiethnic, and multicultural amalgam in which the sacred boundaries of our diverse spiritual belief systems, or lack thereof, are constantly striving to attain a state of harmony.

Opposites, more often than not, complement each other. This is an inescapable condition of life and, consequently, of art. That is, when art is forged from a source of wisdom, from a place of uncertainty, and as an act of love, then the force and primal energy inherent in the creative endeavor makes possible a multiplicity of nuances. This energy transcends a commercial and aesthetically pleasing artistic object predestined to consumerism.

Hence, when I phoned Danny on a Friday morning in June, and Judy answered in his stead (with a voice too passionate and exhilarating to be mistaken for that of a professional executive secretary), I immediately sensed that I was in the presence of something extraordinary: an artistic endeavor far exceeding realistic expectations. Did I mention that the phrase to think outside the box was never quite suited for anything but this gargantuan inventiveness? Judy took my number down after debriefing me on the BxADP.

The next morning, Danny called back. I remember it as one of the longest and most inspiring telephone conversations I’ve had in the course of this century. This salient intimacy was made more so because, while electronic devices aim at bringing us closer, they nonetheless contribute to quite the opposite by confining us to a virtual existence in the midst of shattered moments of public solitude. Despite this, Danny and I shared, for several hours through the wire, a moment of communion that opened my eyes to the invisible fabric of interconnectedness in this tangibly fragmented and magically intertwined borough of financial disparity and transcendental ingenuity.

I believe in the transformational power of art. I’ve seen artists impact communities and their denizens in such a positive way with beauty and thoughtful content, that neither artists nor communities nor dwellers are the same after the encounter. Art is a catalyst for individual development and empowerment. When people can relate to one another despite differences, both the individual and the community prosper, and society at large becomes less antagonistic, less violent, and less greedy.

As I listened to Danny paint a new landscape with strokes of savvy words and sleepless nights in a fierce attempt to redefine the image of the borough where he was born and raised, something hit home. For a moment, I had an overwhelming feeling of belonging that reached far beyond the confines of The Bronx I’ve known and loved since 2000. I knew then that I was finally home, thanks to the BxADP.

Orlando Ferrand
Bronx, NY 
December 2, 2014