Orlando Ferrand

Written by Sophia Ramos

There is a shadow making its way through the Bronx. Slowly but surely is certainly not the way to describe this presence, who moves more like a forest fire, affecting everything he touches. The shadow does what shadows do--inspiring curiosity, rousing a desire to actively pursue this intangible being, even though you know the chances of catching it are so slim. This has been my summer: chasing this shadow in the hopes of a quick minute of all the inspiration he has to offer. The shadow? My cousin, Orlando Ferrand.

Orlando is not only the recipient of the Bronx Recognizes Its  Own (BRIO) award in 2014, but also the winner of the Artist in Community Grant the following year, making him one of the Bronx Council on the Arts' most esteemed artists. His published works, Citywalker, La Otra Isla, and Apologia: Cuban Childhood in my Backpack are highly acclaimed and can be purchased through BCA's Amazon Smile program, located at the top of this page. Born in Santiago de Cuba in 1967, he studied Language and Literature at the University of Havana and went on to achieve degrees in Comparative Literature, Creative Writing, English Literature, and American Language and Culture at City College (CUNY) and Columbia University School of General Studies. In conjunction with his list of accomplishments, his rolodex of current projects at times seems to roll on endlessly, providing an explanation as to why he is such an elusive shadow, to be seen only when riding his beloved bicycle from project to project.

This is how he arrived for his interview, sunglasses perched snuggly on his nose, a Spiderman-themed helmet on his head and a smile stretched wide on his face. The atmosphere in a room shifts dramatically as soon as he enters the room, his charisma infectious as he kisses each and every person on the cheek. "I love you," he intros, "How are you?" And just like that, the shadow becomes tangible. It's hard not to be proud to be related to him.

 “It's hard not to be proud to be related to him.”


Where other people would go to a quiet coffee shop to have an uninterrupted conversation, the two of us waltz into an unassuming burger joint, where Orlando immediately befriends the head waitress, convincing her to shut off the radio with charm and ease. We sit, we order, and we launch head first into business, starting with the genesis of his artistic endeavors.

"I sort of always knew," he says. "I think that being an artist is like having some kind of awareness that in one way or another, you are different. You know, people talk sometimes about knowing from a very early age that they were gay, or that they like both sexes, or that they have some kind of special inclination, and I think that's basically how it happened with me."

He cannot remember a single moment in his life when he wasn't creatively inclined, citing the very first work of art he create at the age of five. "I know it was a princess that was somehow trapped in a castle, sort of like the classic fairytale," he recalls, deep in thought. Much of his early work was inspired by the urban legends and local folktales passed down to him from the elders in his native Cuba, as well as his paternal grandmother, who was of Jamaican descent. To this day he revisits those tales often, having studied them in-depth at Columbia University, and says that they often interweave their way into his work "like a scaffolding" for his pieces.

Eventually, his work grew out of its dependency on the oral tradition and expanded to a topic that began to outweigh in importance all other themes and began to permeate throughout all his work-identity. As his original submission for the BRIO Award, he compiled a sort of chapbook with fifteen of what he considered to be his best and most relevant poems, founded on his journey as a boy just-moved to New York, and the exploration of identity that happened on account of it. This plays an important role in most if not all of Orlando's work, due to his curious outlook on the matter of finding and keeping who you are: "Identity searching, and also owning that sense of identity once it's found. Reclaiming it, in a way. I think that identity is something that is a construct, so it's something that we also have the ability to play with, deconstruct and reconstruct. We can reprogram our identity." It is this fluidity of thought and his effortless ability to capture his ideals through his work that called to the judges and made him win his first award through the Bronx Council on the Arts.

A short year later, Orlando would go on to apply for and eventually receive the Artists in Community Grant with his multidisciplinary program Underneath the Accent of My Skin. The program would be so successful that he would then go on to host the workshop series through Hostos Community College, and the project lives on today. Underneath the Accent of My Skin is an in-depth exploration of memories and "hyphenated identities" from a cross-cultural perspective, engaging artists of all levels interested in developing their craft.

But according to him, it's all merely a continuation and culmination of all the support he received after becoming a BRIO recipient. "It gave me a sense of affirmation of my mission in life, which is definitely my calling as an artist." He pauses for a moment, then expands on the thought. "It gave me that sense of pride as well, but also recognition. I think it's important for everybody to be recognized in whatever it is that they do the best. And I think that's what BRIO did for me. And that opened up the door as well, particularly for looking more into the different resources that the Bronx Council on the Arts had to offer." He later waxes poetic with a smile on his face about the individual programs outside of the Grant Funding that BCA offers, noting in particular how influential the various workshops coming out of the Writer's Center as well as the Seeing it Through program have been to him both as a teacher and as an artist. "I think that those are extraordinary resources that also help bridge that gap between your healthy ego as an artist and your impact on the community, and how your art can also play a role in that community transformation, by impacting the creative spirit of those in the community."

At this point our burgers arrived, looks of delight plastered on both the faces of interviewer and interviewee, though chowing down waited just a bit longer as the topic turned into an in-depth discussion on the importance of community in terms of his work, particularly his personal relationship with the Bronx, which has been his home since 2006.

"The Bronx has become a kind of oasis. I definitely love the relationship I have with nature and that I experience with nature in the Bronx." There is a glint in his eye, one that appears right when you know he's going to start talking about his latest passion photography. "I've been working on a series of photographs called A Bronx of My Own that depicts that relationship that I have with the nature that I find here in the Bronx very exotic, beautiful flora, fauna, and the moonscapes that I can see from my rooftop are extraordinary, spellbinding if you wish." He mentions the people and the occasionally morbid experiences he has had in the borough, referencing in particular a time when he saw a homeless man get run over by a car. These gruesome tales only add to his adoration of the place he calls home, forever able to find inspiration in the blunt reality of this world. For Orlando, there is something beautiful in the tragic.

But ultimately, he has felt that the good heavily outweighs the bad in his community, one which he occasionally likens to family. And as his blood relation, I found myself curious as to how much family has influenced the path his artistic life has taken, if at all.

"I've definitely think that family and this is not borrowing from psychological theories, but basically more from experience plays a very important role. I wish sometimes that we could escape it all, right, and kind of do like a tabula rasa, start from scratch. But I think that we also are and we become who we become because of our experience with family, with family members, with growing up in a particular family."

These are sentiments I can understand. Orlando goes on to spell out, perhaps in a more personal and sentimental way, the profound differences that can be had between him and I, who grew up as members of the same family but in different places. The Cuban Diaspora, which led to the exile of Orlando and many of our ancestors, meant that growing up almost required a turbulent, if not a royally disjointed idea of what family is. Lines were written out both politically and geographically, and despite our closeness today, it was not until 10 short months ago that I got to meet my inspiringly talented cousin for the first time. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as Orlando has often expressed. Sometimes discovering one's identity as an individual can mean a healthier, even deeper emotional connection among people who are bonded by blood. He has proved to be a wealth of knowledge, a fountain of resources, an excellent friend, and an incredible mentor with so much good advice to give to an aspiring writer like myself.

He provided advice to emerging artists during the interview as well, discussing the commitment it takes to truly immerse oneself in their work. "Being an artist is something you can't quit if it's really in you, seeded in you in one way or another. And what I mean by that is that if it's something you really need, like you need water, you need sex, you need all of these important things in life that are nurturing...then you're responsible for your own well-being."

He expresses that organizations like the Bronx Council on the Arts are the ultimate stomping grounds for making this happen. "Artists need to understand that they need to create an infrastructure in order to have a lifetime career in the arts and I think that that relationship with Grant Organizations and organizations that are capable of helping the artist develop that infrastructure becomes very important." He relates this to himself, and the fact that he now works as a consultant for a few of the programs coming out of BCA today. "You could say that...the infrastructure for my career as an artist has also been made possible by these grants from the Bronx Council on the Arts, but I think it's important that you're also true to yourself as an artist first, and that you continue to search your heart and see what your intention is. For me, the artistic community projects that I do are an extension of my own personal philosophy as an artist, my mission statement as an artist."

The biggest thing to note about Orlando Ferrand is that he pursues his passions to the fullest, never does anything that would deny him pleasure, and rarely comes into any project quietly. In this respect, my metaphor of him as a shadow fails. Orlando, in truth, is more like the sun: we cannot touch him, but he shrouds us all in brightness and gold, warming us with his words, his work, and above all, his smile.

For more information on Orlando Ferrand, click HERE is visit his website.

For information on continuing education classes taught by Orlando Ferrand, click HERE.


Sophia Ramos is a student from Miami, Florida studying Editing, Writing, and Media at Florida State University. She is one of the Bronx Council on the Arts' Summer 2016 interns, a born writer looking to explore the genesis and passions of artists within the borough and around the world. This piece allows her to launch the endeavor by discussing the journey of her cousin, Orlando Ferrand, a distinguished Bronx writer.

This and other Featured Artists are brought you by BCA's Grants Department:

Lydia Clark - BRIO Manager / Arts Services Associate

Dalaeja Foreman - Grants Administrator



Are you interested in making a difference in arts funding in the Bronx? Become a Grants Panelist with BCA!



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Choreographer, dancer, teacher Davalois Fearon
in The New York Times


by 2014 BRIO winner
Nahshon D. Ratcliff

Nahshon Ratcliff and Audacia Ray, executive director of Red Umbrella Project. Photo courtesy of Ratcliff.

2014 BRIO winner Nahshon D. Ratcliff had his article, My Art Story, published on the National Endowment for the Arts website as part of NEA’s 50th anniversary.

Click here to read his article.

Bronx Artist
Documentary Project
Art Book
The Bronx Artist Documentary Project Art Book is a borough-wide collaborative endeavor involving 30 Bronx photographers documenting 80 Bronx visual artists at work in their studios or other Bronx venues. The BXADP contains 272 full-color pages with an introduction by artist and eight-time BCA BRIO winner Daniel Hauben, a forward by photographer Mike Kamber and a special dedication to the Bronx Council on the Arts.

Classical Music Performance
BRIO winners
Igor Begelman & Larisa Gelman

Sunday | November 1, 2015
3:00pm | Atria Riverdale

Atria Riverdale will host a classical music performance by musicians Igor Begelman (clarinet) and Larisa Gelman (bassoon), both recipients of the Bronx Council of the Arts’ Bronx Recognizes Its Own (BRIO) awards, 2015 and 2014 respectively. This performance is made possible by The Piatigorsky Foundation. Atria Riverdale is located at 3718-3726 Henry Hudson Parkway, Riverdale, NY 10463. Phone: 718-475-6523. Admission is free and all are welcome.


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