Yorge Luís Ruíz is a Venezuelan busker who moved to Forteleza, Brazil in 2015. Ruíz is a performance artist who works as a living statue. Every day, he dresses in a fisherman’s costume, complete with straw hat, carefully applies cake makeup and bronzer to give his skin the desired metallic sheen, and stands on a busy street corner in Ferreira square, entertaining any pedestrian who passes by.
Contemporary buskers often move in order to avoid escaping the notice of potential tippers who pass them. They never speak, but they may blow kisses, dance, or hand out flowers for coins. Sometimes, buskers are reluctant to speak to reporters, because having a well known public profile makes it harder to avoid paying income taxes in the cash they earn. Ruíz, by contrast, is one of the world’s most well known buskers. This is due to his skill and dedication to his craft, but it is also due to the popularity of his performance partner.
When Ruíz first moved to Forteleza, Brazil, he didn’t have a place to stay. Nor did he know anyone in the country. He hadn’t come to a new country alone though. He brought his dog, Jaspe, to work with him everyday, because he didn’t have a safe place to leave her. Like all of the best partnerships, Ruíz and Jaspe’s formed organically. Jaspe was able to stay quiet while Ruíz performed, but it was her ability to stay still for long periods of time that captivated him. He thought it might captivate an audience too, and he was right. In 2019, a fan posted a video of Ruíz and Jaspe’s routine on Twitter. Within three weeks, the video went viral, receiving five million views, two hundred sixty thousand “likes,” and ninety-one thousand comments on Twitter. As of June 2019, the performing duo had nearly ninety thousand followers on Instagram. [Ruíz is unique amongst buskers for his adept usage of social media, but that usage is relatively recent. He only established an Instagram account after local and international reporters expressed an interest in covering his act.]
Ruíz stands on a block which, like his fisherman’s costume and his body, is covered with metallic cake makeup. The lettering on the block reads, FISHERMAN STATUE. TAKE HIS PHOTO AND COLLABORATE IN HIS ART, in Brazilian Portuguese. Ruíz stands, barefoot. He is absolutely still. Jaspe, a long haired chihuahua, is curled in the curve of his right arm. Her light brown fur would be nearly indistinguishable from his metallic skin, if not for its slight movements in the wind. Her head is tilted to the right, and his lips are pressed to her neck; it was Jaspe’s consistently staying still when he kissed her neck that inspired Ruíz to incorporate her into his living statue performance. He gazes at her lovingly, seemingly eternally, while she cuddles against him. Only when Ruíz lifts his head do passersby see that they have been gazing at a living statue.
Anyone who sees Ruíz and Jaspe together cannot doubt the strength of their bond, and Ruíz isn’t asking Jape to perform any activity that she doesn’t already perform naturally. He says that Jaspe has never been formally trained. Those who stop in front of Forteleza’s most popular statue are witnessing a still from a continuous love story, the story of a performance artist who moved to a new country with only one friend, a furry friend who daily demonstrates her constancy. Still, not everyone who sees Ruíz and Jaspe’s routine perceives it as a visual declaration of their mutual love.
The first day they performed their routine in Ferreira square, a woman stopped in front of what she believed to be a statue. When Jaspe moved, the woman accused Ruíz of exploiting the dog for his financial gain, drugging Jaspe in order to make her stay still. The woman, who claimed she was from an animal protection agency, even tried to take Jaspe out of her owner’s arms. When Ruíz broke character, holding his small dog tightly to keep the woman from taking her, the woman left the street corner.
However, she reported Ruíz to the police, who came to the street corner later that day to take his statement. He told the police that he loved Jaspe, and she was a willing partner in his routine. His wasn’t the only statement the police took that day. Onlookers who had stopped to watch him perform gave testimonials on his behalf, telling police that he treated his dog kindly, and she obviously adored him. Anyone who saw impropriety in their relationship, the onlookers claimed, was a biased observer. The police left without taking action. Ruíz and Jaspe are still thrilling anyone who sees them with the skill of their performance and the sincerity of their love.