She was a street performer, a clown, a nomad who had traveled around Brazil for years by bicycle, performing her little circus or puppet show in squares across thousands of miles. When Julieta Hernández Martínez, 38, stepped into Miss Jujuba's shoes, she didn't miss a red nose. And he played the cuatro, a typical guitar from his native Venezuela. On December 23, while cycling through the Amazon on the way to a long-awaited meeting with his mother across the border, he disappeared. The few but organized and combative Brazilian circus professionals sounded the alarm. The bike was located back in January. His body shortly afterwards. A Brazilian couple he encountered in a shelter – and who were struck by the mobile phone the clown excitedly showed for the first time – murdered them with extreme cruelty after raping them and burning them.
The femicide, one of more than 1,300 cases committed in Brazil each year, sparked an unprecedented wave of outrage and solidarity. This past weekend, protests and bicycle marches took place in more than 130 Brazilian cities to honor the life and work of Miss Jujuba and condemn chronic sexist violence.
Video: Julieta Hernandez
“July was for me a reference for her courage, for acting alone, because it is very difficult to be alone on the street, because she had many artistic expressions and brought them all together in her travel project,” says her friend Luiza Soares Cabral, 36, years old, Brazilian, also a traveling clown. On the phone from Buenos Aires, he says that they met in one of the reflection and self-help groups that emerged on WhatsApp during the pandemic. It included circus girls. They discussed the craft and challenges that come with being a street artist. “We connected immediately. Juli set off from Rio de Janeiro towards the northeast by bike [de Brasil] in 2019. And I wanted to set off in the same direction with my small company, Circo Muamba, in a van, we are the family. “My partner and our daughter.” Itinerant artist groups are a deeply rooted phenomenon in Latin America.
The circumstances of the murder and subsequent mobilization have placed a focus on sexist violence, the dangers facing women traveling alone, and opened a window into the world of traveling circus professionals. Clowns, puppeteers and street artists in general, who have chosen a nomadic life performing in distant cities or villages, are convinced that their art is an instrument of social change. Who knows if one of them may have left a mark as deep as that on Colonel Aureliano Buendía in “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” the day he discovered ice as a child thanks to a visit from a ragged gypsy family.
Miss Jujuba lived and traveled on two wheels with essentials. Thanks to a collection on the Internet, he had just bought a cell phone that was much better than the previous one. But far from being a whim, it was a crucial tool in the 21st century's clown gear. For today's street artists, passing the hat to the public is just as important as having an Instagram full of videos and news, as well as a Pix, Bizum account, or the most popular electronic payment method anywhere. Because even in the digitalosphere there is an audience and applause.
A few days before his disappearance, the clown published a video on Instagram with the title “Thank you!” In which he addressed the public – “those who believe in my work, my artistic endeavor, my life project” – in Portuguese with a Spanish accent, to thank them for the donations to purchase the cell phone. He knew that with this phone he could spread his art much better. He added an addendum: “I've always wanted to make these fast-paced videos, classic bike travel hahahaha.”
He sent his last message on December 23rd from Presidente Figueiredo, a town eight hours by bike from Manaus. He said he would spend the night there before driving further north to Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela, where he grew up. He knocked on the door of two dormitories. Full, no gap, they told him. He found a third, with a place and a night for 10 reales (two dollars). She was the only guest besides a couple who had been there for seven months with their five small children as a favor and in return acted as caregivers.
Soares, her friend, says nomads like her have a risk scale to decide where to spend the night. “If there are only men, dangerous; Man with companion, less dangerous; A family, even if it is dysfunctional, provides more security. “I'm sure Juli thought this was a safe place with these five children.”
After the arrest and confessions of the suspects, police commissioner Valdinei Silva revealed all sorts of details about the crime: “The victim was sleeping in a hammock on the balcony of the dormitory when Thiago grabbed a knife and came towards him to steal his cell phone.” “. She was hanged, raped, burned, hanged again and buried nearby. In prison, the confessed murderers are accused of robbery followed by murder, rape and concealment of a corpse.
Brazilian philosopher Djamila Ribeiro wrote in Folha de S.Paulo that this murder is “a painful reminder of the historic lack of freedom of women who must think and pray when they decide to travel alone.” What for us everyone should have one right is an unacceptable matter of luck. Luckily I don't come across any perpetrators.” Ms. Jujuba herself admitted some time ago in an interview published on YouTube that she liked the uncertainty and the people on the street the most and least. “Of course you’re scared, but you feel brave.”
The Venezuelan artist, who studied veterinary medicine, came to Brazil in 2016 to study theater. A solo traveler with extensive experience, she was among those who warned when she knew she would be cut off in Brazil, where population, network coverage and Wi-Fi are scarce. As the lack of news continued, his friends feared he had been in an accident. Not even in their worst nightmare could they imagine their terrible end.
They tried to report her disappearance, but there was no way to do so remotely, so several artist collectives – Circo di Só Ladies (a ladies-only circus, a pun on Cirque du Soleil), Pé Vermei, Circo Muamba and three others launched the #JulietaPresente campaign online to raise money that would allow them to send someone to President Figueiredo to report and search for clues on the ground. In a short time they collected enough donations for three clowns and the mother to stand there. Only then were the police activated; Within two days he declared the murder solved. Media coverage of the case quickly skyrocketed.
Julieta Hernández Martínez.Paddy Chena
Her friend explains that although the circus universe that Miss Jujuba and she shared is viewed with great sympathy, it is also fraught with stigma. “People think we’re doing this because we’re hungry. But there are no incentives. And in addition to a way of working and living, it is also an ideological project,” he emphasizes. The victim's friends recall in an open letter that street art, bicycle travel and migration were the trenches from which Miss Jujuba fought “the capitalist, patriarchal and oppressive system”.
Soares remembers speaking to her friend for the last time on the 22nd, the day before the murder. Additionally, it took a long time for them to meet in person as they were both on tour in Brazil – each with their own show and route. Their paths eventually crossed at an arts festival in Ingazeira, inland Pernambuco. “There I was able to learn a lot of details about his work,” remembers Soares. “Their way of traveling was exchange between equals. We came to a city to leave our art behind and feed on local art,” he explains. Whether due to its history, its mix, its continental size or a climate that favors street life, Brazil has a cultural wealth of truly staggering power and diversity.
Like a small ant cycling through an area twice the size of the European Union, Miss Jujuba was immersed for years in this mission that made her the axis of her life. “He was looking for seamstresses, craftsmen who made instruments, wooden dolls… He delved into local folklore and shared his knowledge with artists who often don't even perceive themselves as artists. And she offered doll workshops, she wrote, she drew…sometimes she stayed for months,” her friend said. His next challenge was to learn how to better disseminate all this knowledge so that this vast experience could reach more people.
Itinerant street artists are in constant contact with each other. They give tips on routes, accommodations and bases, recommend cities where things went well and advise against cities where things went worse.
Julieta Hernández Martínez, Miss Jujuba, now rests in Venezuela. His friends, the circus nomads, are still in shock and fear in their bodies at the thought of what could have happened to one of them. They are still looking for Miss Jujuba's artistic equipment: the dolls, the drawings, the writings… You can find a small selection of her art on her Instagram account @utopiamaceradaenchocolate.
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