A photo of a peacock on the subway created a social media frenzy on Friday. People crowed not just about the peacock, but also the fellow passengers who seemed unfazed by the feathery giant. Only in New York City, New York City exclaimed.
We wondered whether the mystery bird was the one and only Dexter the Peacock, so we reached out to his owner, Ventiko. Turns out the subway peacock didn’t belong to the Bushwick-based conceptual photo and performance artist, but Ventiko had a theory: “By the way the human is holding a small stick with the bird perched on it, it must be stuffed.”
— Gothamist (@Gothamist) July 27, 2017
Soon enough, the truth emerged. The bird was indeed “expired and gone to meet its maker,” as Monty Python would have it. A reddit user revealed that it was the proud taxidermic mascot of Tribeca cocktail bar Weather Up.
The affair left us wondering what the life of a real, breathing peacock in NYC would look like. So we called up Ventiko.
“The whole thing is ridiculous,” she said of her life with Dexter, “But the universe put us together and he really changed my life in a positive way. Dexter disarms anybody he meets.”
People respond to the unlikely couple to such an extent that Ventiko tries to avoid public transportation. “I don’t want to traumatize him,” she said, “I have never left the house without having at least one person react.” But the bird needs air, so he takes his owner on daily strolls through Bushwick, wearing his little Chihuahua leash– often followed by many a high-pitched “Oh my God, it’s a peacock.”
A widely trafficked meme suspected extreme hipsterdom as the reason behind Dexter’s life in the concrete jungle, but the real story behind the coupling of artist and animal is a bit more complicated– and also more beautiful.
After having purchased Dexter and his sweetheart Etta in Miami for an art installation, Ventiko found shelter for the couple in the garden of an acquaintance. But things went awry when peahen Etta and the four freshly minted love children disappeared. Dexter didn’t take that sudden loss of his homey happiness all too well and turned prickly.
The bird and his new owner grew apart and when Ventiko heard that Dexter was spending his days locked up in a garage, she flew down to save him. As sanctuaries didn’t respond to her inquiries and her attempts to get Dexter a home in the Dominican Republic stalled because of bird flu travel restrictions, she found him an upstate farm, which he soon turned to shreds (“You’ve got to come get your monster”). It was then that Ventiko became resigned to the fact that Dexter had apparently chosen her as his new soulmate.
Ever since, they’ve cohabitated and collaborated in her Bushwick loft. She feeds him Greek yogurt and fresh fruit with a spoon and he stars in her performances, conceptual photo shoots and occasional dinner parties. Because, although his mother-and-friend protects him from the whims of the MTA, Dexter hasn’t shed all of his public peacock pride.
“Yes,” Ventiko said, “As long as he is familiar with people, he absolutely loves attention.”