[Community Corner 💌] Graffiti, Hip-Hop, and Haiti: My Journey as an Artist 🎨

By David Legrand

💬 Graffiti as a Special Language

Last semester was quite hectic for me, and I’m sure it was for a lot of you as well. We were, and still are, in a pandemic. Despite this, we still had moments we cherished, and classes that perhaps sparked our interest. We are college students after all, continuing to solidify our passions and trying to figure out what we want to do with our lives. 

So forgive me as I start off this article by referencing an assignment I had last semester, where I watched a documentary called Style Wars in my “Artists, Ideas and Practices” class. 

This documentary was developed by PBS production between 1981 and 1983 mainly in the Bronx. Still cited as a classic piece of hip hop history, it is an unnervingly calm movie capturing a particularly delirious moment – a moment replicated so often in throwback movies and rap songs that seeing it in the comparatively 1:1 ratio of a documentary film can be jarring.

It’s not often that you find an assignment from class that you can actually connect to on a personal, creative level. In the film, the main character, Billy, speaks to the true meaning of graffiti: 

“It is not a matter of regular people seeing it or the fact that they can read it… it is a matter of other graffiti writers; we can read it. Normal people are excluded.”

I recognized myself in those words when I look back at the early stages of my career as an artist. When I first started drawing, I would not let just anybody see my artwork. 

After I finally decided to share my work with others, I expected it to be a conversation starter about the issue I was trying to capture. To me, compliments were secondary. 

However, people always gave me compliments first - without digging deep enough into my work and looking beneath what they have in front of their eyes. I wanted discussion, critiques, and conversation - all of which could only be done with a select few.  So, I showed my work to the select few who had the same interests as me, and when we got together, we discussed and critiqued. 

My art is also very personal to me, which made me believe for a long time that it was not meant to be shared with the world. In fact, I believed that my art was a language that no one else would understand.

I got this idea from a book that I read called How to Tame a Wild Tongue by Gloria E. Anzaldúa. Anzaldúa wrote about the power of special languages that only some people can understand. She wrote, “For kids like me and people my own age, I picked up...a language of rebellion, against both the Standard English and the Standard Spanish. It is a secret language. Adults of the culture and outsiders cannot understand it.” 

The young people that Anzaldúa described had a special language that only they could understand, one they needed in order to express themselves authentically.

I have a special language too, that I believed only fellow artists could understand: the language of graffiti. 

🖌️ My Love for Graffiti, Hip-Hop, and Haiti 

I grew up around graffiti artists who used the special language of graffiti to raise awareness about things that were happening in my neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti: 

Media and news outlets in Haiti only broadcasted the mainstream views on social issues, which left young people without a language to share their alternative ideas. This led us to create many different languages of our own. 

Some of us used large group discussions and others, like me, relied on graffiti that was often inspired by lyrics from conscious hip-hop music. Conscious hip-hop, also referred to as political hip-hop, is a subgenre of hip-hop music that emerged in the 1980s as a way of echoing communities’ cries against the dominant culture on social issues.

The first graffiti I ever made depicted a book with the words “The Message” written on it, and the book was being attacked by two SWAT agents. It was inspired by one of my favorite French hip-hop songs titled “Le Message,” which describes the violence and discrimination that are present in communities like Port-au-Prince.

Graffiti is more than just an act of vandalism. By focusing more on the illegal aspect of graffiti, a lot of people fail to grasp that graffiti is a language of its own. The book A Lexicon of the Indigenous People: Images of Autonomy and Desire says that “In the 70s, graffiti, rapping and break dancing were the main expression in the new young people subculture called hip hop.” 

Graffiti is also more than the hip-hop lyrics that inspire it. The Lexicon also says that “We have few gestures that can hold all of our impulses – desire, pain, pleasure, grief, play, violence and tenderness the way art can, simultaneously, and with limitless capacity.”  

In my community, graffiti was a reflection of music and a reflection of our environment. And it's always up to the viewer to look at and seek to understand the feelings the artist was trying to convey. 

🎨 Delving into My Current Art Journey

My own artistic journey has taken me beyond graffiti, though I continue to rely on the ideas that form the foundations of graffiti: embracing rebellion, hip-hop, and the fact that my art is a special language that takes effort to fully understand. 

These ideas come through in my most recent piece, which was the result of a video I saw  circulating online in which a police officer ordered his companion dog to attack an unarmed black man. It happened in the wake of George Floy’s death. 

My work depicts a corpse laying on the ground and a crying black mother inside a silhouette of a man and a dog. The technique I used is double exposure; it is quite common in photography as well as cinematography. I thought the technique would be appropriate given the context of the piece. By combining the two images together, double exposure tends to create a surreal feeling for the two images to convey a deeper meaning or symbolism.

Even though this drawing is centered around police brutality and violence that is plaguing the black community - as depicted in a lot of conscious rap songs - it is also very personal, as I am no stranger to those problems. The more emotions I poured into talking about those issues, the more I lost my words to express myself. 

Perhaps, this even led me to trade my words for graffiti and drawing because I newly understood that there is someone out there who can understand my languages of graffiti and art. 

This piece builds from the language of graffiti because of the short messages scrawled in the background of the drawing. It embraces rebellion and draws from hip-hop, because the issues and dialogue that are embedded in this piece articulate resistance to dominant powers. 

Most importantly, this piece represents my own unique language as an artist as I open up to the world and finally expect that others might understand. 

Check out more of David's Art!

David Legrand

David Legrand is a sophomore studying Art, Architecture & Planning (AAP) at Cornell University. He specializes in painting and drawing, both inspired by the special language of graffiti that he used to communicate in Haiti. His next goal on his art journey is an exhibition centered black culture and customs. 

Did this blog post supercharge your creativity? ⚡ 

We hope so. And we can’t wait to see what magic you make next. ✨

Take this email as the reason you’ve been searching for to dive into your next creative endeavor, and know that you’ve got a creative community backing you at every step of the way. 🙌

Website | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | ✉️: cornellcreativescc@gmail.com

Creative Opportunities + Events 🎨

Opportunities 🚀

NYC Pop-Up is Seeking Creative Talent


Inertia is an instagrammable (Museum of Ice Cream style) STEM pop-up happening this summer in Brooklyn, NY (permit approved). Click here to learn more about the project. (https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/13zP94cblKKtHm3Bf_iCO_ywO2sVhy79CS0QXeb-FCHY/edit?usp=sharing). 

They are looking for creatives who can help with merchandise design, graphic design, mural design, website/platform design, and oversee the greater creative vision. Aside from creative/designers, they are also looking for coders, builders to build the pop-up (only if you are in Ithaca), and individuals to help with logistics. If you are interested in any of these roles or know someone who might be, send an email to Karina Popovich at kpopovich45@gmail.com.

Hotel Ezra Cornell 97 🛎

Hotel Ezra Cornell is a completely student-run business conference for hospitality industry leaders and members of the Cornell community from across the globe. Featuring some of the most talented individuals in the business, the conference will discuss the latest developments in hospitality and include leisure events for attendees to network with other professionals and meet the students who will be leading the industry in the future.

Apply to be on the HEC 97 Board of Directors! Serving on the board is an opportunity to gain amazing leadership experience, project management skills, and unforgettable memories. 

Applications for all Board of Director positions are due on Monday, April 12th at 11:59 PM, and interviews will be taking place from Friday, April 16th through Friday, April 23rd.

Please visit https://www.cornellhec.com/hec97recruitment for the official application, critical dates with expected attendance, and contact information for the current HEC 96 Board of Directors. In addition, the official application can be accessed here: https://cornell.ca1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_6Kj6Vy5ApVzoNUy.

Unmute Magazine 🧾

Eki'Shola, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Unmute Magazine is a Cornell alumna, musician, and physician! "Unmute Magazine is a monthly digital publication by and mainly for BIPOC creatives (i.e. musicians, artists, dancers, poets, etc), however, active allies are welcome.

If you are interested, learn more about the magazine and the founder below!


2021 Humanities Centers Initiative Public Humanities Grant

Deadline: May 10, 2021

Other Events 🗓


Join us for Asiamnesia written by Sun Mee Chomet, directed by Sara Pistono '21, and Duoer Jia '21!

April 15, 7:30 p.m. EDT
April 16, 5:00 p.m. EDT
April 17, 2:00 and 7:30 p.m. EDT

Asiamnesia is an exploration of the stereotypes that plague Asian/Asian American actresses throughout their careers, as well as a celebration of their versatility and endurance. Asiamnesia discusses the politics behind Asian/Asian American representation in the American entertainment industry. Scenes shift from realistic to conceptual, metaphorical to literal, classical to postmodern. It is a show sure to leave audience members thinking deeply about the challenges faced by Asian women, not only in entertainment but in society as well.

Reserve your free ticket at schwartztickets.com. A link will be emailed to you prior to showtime. (Based on your personal email settings, if you do not receive this email in your inbox, please be sure to check your spam/junk folder.)

Toxic Chemicals

Toxic Chemicals in Film," by Óscar Pérez Hernández, Border Environments, A Special Events Series
April 6 @ 1:00 pm

Oscar A. Pérez is an assistant professor of Spanish language and Hispanic studies at Skidmore College, in Saratoga Springs, New York. He holds a Ph.D. in Spanish from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a master’s in the history of science and scientific communication from the University of Valencia, Spain. His research focuses on science, technology, and the environment in Hispanic literature and film. His work has appeared in critical volumes and various academic journals, including HispaniaHispanic Issues OnlineImagofagiaIbérica, and Film International. He is currently working on two book projects. The first one examines the relationship between authoritarianism and medicine in the Spanish-speaking world.

Slack | Website | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | ✉️: cornellcreativescc@gmail.com

[Community Corner💌] Acting As Storytelling: Lessons from a Senior PMA Student 🎭

By Duoer Jia

Acting attracts me for many reasons.

For one, the pure connections formed between each actor on stage is magical. Being “present in the moment” comes first and foremost. In rehearsal, there are no distractions from the outside world — no phones, no computers. Everyone leaves all their worries of the day outside and enters the space completely open and ready to play. Freed of such burdens, these moments have the potential to feel more real than certain experiences in our day-to-day lives.

I see theatre as a quick escape from my busy everyday life, a place where I can forget about myself and focus on moments of human connection with my fellow cast members. After years of training as an actress, I now also remind myself to be in the present moment, whether I am onstage or off.

To me, acting is not the idea of life, but life itself. Acting trains me to pay more attention to human behavior and gives me the opportunity to have different experiences.

In preparation for the production “The Wolves” by Sarah DeLappe directed by Professor Beth Milles, eight other actresses and I underwent soccer training for two months, during which we learned necessary soccer skills and developed a strong sense of team spirit. At the end of our closing performance, as we huddled together as a team and chanted, “We are the wolves!”, my eyes welled up with tears. They were not only for our sold-out performances but also for the bonds I’ve built with my “teammates” which I’ve never experienced before.

DJ's Portfolio

🎤 My Voice in Performance

Off-Campus On-screen: Cornell Life Under Covid-19

In the fall of 2020, Performing and Media Arts professor Rebekah Maggor initiated a film project titled Off-Campus On-screen: Cornell Life Under Covid-19, a collage of student-led short films about COVID-19’s impact on the lives of Cornellians.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the notion of what constitutes a “border” has become increasingly significant. Our international community faced the daunting prospect of returning to or remaining in Ithaca under strict travel restrictions and in a climate of extremely tense international relations. Many students were left to deal with their situation without any organizational support.

As an international student myself, I felt a strong need to tell my story and raise awareness of challenges the international community faces during the pandemic. Thus, I created a piece called You Can’t Return, which centers around a Cornell junior from China who faces an imminent travel ban. As the writer, actor, cinematographer, and designer of the piece, I felt the power of storytelling on a myriad of levels. Making a film during a global pandemic was a challenging and fascinating experience.

Behind-the-scenes of "You Can't Return"


Over my three years in the  PMA department, I have been fortunate enough to participate in several theatrical productions at Cornell and portray various characters.

However, I’ve never seen an Asian character in these shows, no role that represents me on stage. I would spend so much time studying and developing characters that didn’t tell my story. So I decided that if there wasn’t an opportunity presented to me, I would be the one to create it.

I’m currently directing a play called Asiamnesia with my colleague Sara Pistono. Asiamnesia is about the representation of Asian and Asian-American women in the entertainment industry. It explores the stereotypes that plague Asian and As.-Am. actresses throughout their careers, and celebrates these women’s versatility and endurance.

Our cast consists of five talented Asian actresses, and our production designers are mostly Asian-identifying individuals. It truly makes my heart full working on such a powerful and special production during a time when racism towards the Asian community is at a peak.

Click Here For Tickets to Asiamnesia!

I highly encourage everyone to try out acting whether you consider yourself an actor or not. Acting offers a unique and beautiful lens through which to look at life, and is also a great way to ease the self-consciousness many of us carry. If someone were to ask what the best decision I’ve made during college was, I would say pursuing acting has made me who I am today. 

Duoer Jia

 Duoer Jia (DJ) is a senior double majoring in Information Science and Performing and Media Arts. She can found in theatre acting or directing, by the beach surfing, or in cafes around the world creating better user experiences. 

Did this blog post supercharge your creativity? ⚡ 

We hope so. And we can’t wait to see what magic you make next. ✨

Take this email as the reason you’ve been searching for to dive into your next creative endeavor, and know that you’ve got a creative community backing you at every step of the way. 🙌

Website | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | ✉️: cornellcreativescc@gmail.com ✓ ✓

Creator Studio

Learn about building portfolios in our panel this weekend!

Creator Studio General Event 🎭

The Creator Studio Program will be holding our second general event on Sunday, April 4th at 11:00 am. This event will be about Building Portfolios, and it is open to everyone. Please jump in if you are also interested in learning about building personal portfolios.
We invited four guest speakers who already have mature portfolios to share a bit about their experiences.

Here is the list of speakers:

Click on their names to have a glance at their personal portfolios!
Please feel free to fill out this form to ask the guest speakers any questions you have regarding building portfolios, so we can address them specifically during the event. 

Here is the zoom link for the event.

Other Opportunities 🚀

Journalism Internship with NYS Music

NYS Music is looking for eager students to join our team as interns for the coming Summer and Fall semesters. Founded in 2015, NYS Music brings music news of all genres from all corners of New York, with an additional focus on upcoming events as well as the history of music in the Empire State. We aim to provide an opportunity for English, Journalism, and Communications students to gain experience working with a website focusing on music and the arts from across New York State.

We are looking for eager, driven students to join the NYS Music team, writing timely news and features on content as assigned by an editor. This is an ongoing opportunity for college students, allowing you to have your work published on a regular basis to an ever-widening audience in the Northeast. We would expect students to meet a minimum number of articles/hours per week and work with our existing staff in an online environment.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask. NYS Music is committed to high-quality contributors and content and seeks to work in a mutually beneficial manner with interns. 

Interested candidates should send the following to pete@nysmusic.com for consideration.

Please specify Summer or Fall when sending.

  • Resume or LinkedIn profile

  • Letter of interest, including your current music interests and tastes

  • Two recent writing samples

The deadline for summer is May 1. The fall deadline is August 1.

Slack | Website | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | ✉️: cornellcreativescc@gmail.com

[Community Corner💌] Seeing Rejection as Redirection: How I Started Black Voices on the Hill🎙

By Daniel James II

All of us are here on the Hill because the institution in some way accepted us. 

I’ll never forget the day personally. I was in my school library, and it was around 6:59 pm. I logged onto the portal, covered half of the phone up with my hand, slid my hand down, where it read: Dear Daniel...

My hand was shaking in trepidation. 

But of course, the next line read, “CONGRATULATIONS!”. 

However, my journey through Cornell has made me look back over my life and realize that my journey has not only been punctuated by acceptances, but also by REJECTION. 

Some of the most dreaded e-mails to open have been ones whose greeting began with… “Hello Daniel, I’m sorry to write to tell you that...'' or “After a long process of review, your application was not...” or even “Your application was very inspiring, BUT...”. Or even arguably the most dreaded ones, “It is ok if we just be friends?” 

Why is it that those emails or texts can be so disconcerting? Why is it that we view moments of news like that as a rejection of our entire future, an opportunity, or a life that we think we deserve? I’ll tell you the background of my story, why moments like that have always been very difficult for me, and how embracing rejection can allow you to create your own opportunities in a creative field - something not talked about enough at Cornell.

👋 First, An Introduction To My Journey With Rejection

For starters, my name is Daniel James II. My mother nicknamed me Quest at a very early age, because she thought it had promise. So this little boy born full promise was reared in a small rural black working class town, where despite the challenges of the city economically, educationally, my community expected more of me. If I had a dollar for every time an older lady or gentleman called me “Future Mr. President” or “little Mr. Obama” I would be able to pay Cornell’s tuition three times over. 

Those high expectations were not necessarily a hindrance, but a launching pad to something greater, and it fueled in me a desire to not let anyone down. You see, I often have felt that I could not afford to be “Rejected” or to “Fail”. Every time I shoot my shot, I can’t miss, because when I miss, my community or my family misses. 

Therein lies the mistake. You see, this path with little to no failure or rejection doesn’t exist, even for the Obama’s, the Winfrey’s, and whoever else we deem as folks that “made it.” Your path to Cornell was not linear, so don’t think life at Cornell, or life after you leave the Hill will be either. It’s a journey full of twists and turns that have the opportunity to teach you life’s most important lessons. 

Graphic by Renee, CC Designer

And so because of that, I want you to leave today knowing three things: A rejection of one presentation of yourself in an application or interview, or any given juncture is not a reflection of who you really are. Thinking that a missed opportunity is a rejection of your town, your family, your village, and your community is a weight that you should not always carry on your 18, 19, or 20 year-old shoulders. 

Just because you get rejected, don’t stop applying yourself. You don’t miss out on your destiny when you apply and it doesn’t work it out. You miss destiny by living a life full of shoulda, woulda, or could haves.

🎙 Creating My Own Opportunities: Black Voices on the Hill

I turned a time of turmoil in the last year into the launch of my very first podcast. 

Black Voices on the Hill was one of the first times in my life that I spearheaded something, with autonomy, and had the chance to create opportunities for others. As long as I was depending on an acceptance to this, or acceptance from that person or program, I would have continued to miss out on honing in on my own creativity.

It’s possible that I would have never attempted such an autonomous endeavor because of fear. Fear of what? The unknown, or maybe whether or not anybody wanted to hear what I had to say. 

But it was after I witnessed the slow ravaging of my community by COVID, and the police murdering George Floyd & Breonna Taylor that I no longer cared about who would or wouldn’t accept my voice. I needed an outlet to voice my opinions, and I knew I could find a small group of folks that would engage with me in this dialogue concerning the volatile state of black lives. 

With the aid and support of my producers from the student run station WVB 93.5 FM, I was able to create “Black Voices on the Hill” in September. When you listen to my show, you don’t just get the nitty-gritty of activism, but you get a weekly celebration of my guests and the contributions they are making in athletics, academic, investment, hair, clothing, and so much more. 

Listen to Black Voices on the Hill here!

We talk about the “heavy” topics - including trauma - while also realizing and appreciating the excellence at Cornell. After all, my show’s vision is to envision a campus that is “aware of the black excellence in Cornell’s Collegetown”, and we are seeing that dream come to fruition. 

This journey, however, has not been an easy one. While my heart is in it, sometimes my battery does run low. 

Aside from hosting & filming responsibilities, I also create all promotional, marketing, and branding materials for my show -- Canva.com has become my best friend. This includes making flyers, making Instagram reels, managing my social media, alongside hosting. 

While I am the son of a journalist and media expert in many ways, I had little to no experience with building a brand aside from my own. Sometimes when I think I’m ahead on interviews, a fresh idea will pop to my head that could take my show to the next level and appeal to a wider audience. 

When I envisioned my own podcast or radio show, I can truly say that I never thought it would encompass my daily life, and yet I would truly have it no other way. I do not see “Black Voices on the Hill” as work, but as a once in a lifetime opportunity. Simply by overcoming the fear of the unknown, this platform is inspiring audiences and lives I have yet to meet face to face. 

And so what should YOU do now? My advice...Go sit to the side, and take every place you see yourself going, write it down, make a vision board even. Then take every rejection you’ve received thus far, frame them, and save them not as memoriam of dead things, but turn them into awards for yourself along your journey. Because who knows, with will power and belief in the power that is in you, you could easily take the next “I’m sorry to inform you...” and turn it into the biggest break of your life.

Daniel James II

Daniel, from South Carolina, is a junior in the ILR school. While passionate about criminal justice & public policy, he took a gigantic leap, and made his first foray into podcasting through his show, Black Voices on the Hill, amplifying black Cornellian voices. Will he end up on Capitol Hill or CNN? Anything is possible. 

Did this blog post supercharge your creativity? ⚡ 

We hope so. And we can’t wait to see what magic you make next. ✨

Take this email as the reason you’ve been searching for to dive into your next creative endeavor, and know that you’ve got a creative community backing you at every step of the way. 🙌

Website | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | ✉️: cornellcreativescc@gmail.com

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