You don’t have to live in Bushwick to know that many highly visible denizens of the neighborhood are often characterized as oblivious, privileged walking eye-roll fodder. Sometimes this kind of assessment is fair; other times, the generalization is just an exercise in kind of pointless stereotype confirmation.
A prime example is recent media attention received by Bushwick artist Ventiko. She’s lived and worked in Bushwick for nearly a decade, and she also happens to own a pet peacock named Dexter. Images of Dexter and Ventiko, unattributed and usually accompanied by a snarky comment about Bushwick, make their way into my inbox sent by friends who thought of me when they saw the neighborhood. They want us to share a laugh, perhaps.
A meme featuring Ventiko from imgur, captioned “Hipster Level: Why?”
This particular meme garnered a lot of attention and sent several media outlets to Ventiko’s door, some employing the kind of aggressive coverage tactics usually reserved for A-listers and corrupt officials in the middle of a scandal, in search of a one off piece about how weird and dumb Bushwick residents can be.
A peacock is certainly an unusual choice for a domestic animal, but Dexter is generally in good health and good spirits and is ostensibly well behaved, so beyond the initial novelty factor, he’s not a super high ranking weird NYC pet—and while Ventiko is a creative professional and as such an unorthodox person (some of her projects can definitely be described as splashy), a lot of the attention she received has little to do with the realities of her creative practice or lifestyle.
Ventiko’s life—that of a working artist— has more to do with part of the Bushwick community that doesn’t garner as many hits and scoffs. On a recent Monday, Ventiko spent her day at Bushwick United Headstart working with the children in the program presenting an interactive performance featuring their re-used milk cartons as both costume and instruments. It’s a project which has been ongoing since 2014.
The workshop is an iteration of Sylva Dean and Me, a project by Ventiko that was long in the works and represents the kind of cultural enrichment programs that are missing from the curricula at many of the city’s schools.
Ventiko says her goal “is to work with the 6 different Headstart nursery schools in the area and fabric[ate] a large scale set and wearable sculptures for all the kids both made of milk cartons and [to] create a public musical performance for the community, parents and teachers next summer at Maria Hernandez Park.”
Remember to go beyond the meme, Bushwick!