From the Artist Behind the Selfie Rat, Meet the Toilet Iguana

Posted December 10, 2017 9:25 p.m. EST

One of the most widely viewed pieces during Miami Art Week, the annual spectacle that ended Sunday, was not to be found at the international art fair Art Basel Miami Beach or any of the galleries around town.

It was a news story broadcast by the Spanish-language network Telemundo on its affiliate stations in Miami and Puerto Rico.

In it, a man from the Miami suburb of Hialeah goes to the bathroom and gives out a yelp. The video implies that when he sat on the toilet, he was bitten on the genitals by an iguana that crawled through the pipes.

The shaky footage shows the iguana peering out of the toilet and the man’s grandmother screaming as she chases it with a hair brush.

“For a family from Hialeah, it was a nightmare that still has them in fear,” the newscaster says.

There was no iguana attack. The video was the latest viral media hoax from the enigmatic viral media hoax artist Zardulu, creator of the Selfie Rat, the Three-Eyed Catfish of the Gowanus Canal, a raccoon riding on an alligator in the Everglades, and possibly many others.

The iguana escapade, Zardulu said, retells the myth of Kronos, who rebels against his father Uranos, who had imprisoned his children in the underworld. Kronos rises from the underworld, castrates Uranos and seizes the throne. Underworld, throne — you get it. Zardulu’s piece is called “The Usurpation of Ouranos.”

Not that you could find it in any official catalog at the art shows. The video had no physical presence at the events, but Zardulu declared it a guerrilla submission, creating it to capitalize on the publicity the events garner.

In recent days the Nov. 30 Telemundo story was picked up by news sites across Florida, by the British Buzzfeed-like site Unilad, and by sites in Vietnam, Poland, Cuba and elsewhere.

And because Florida really has seen a rash of iguanas emerging from toilets, Zardulu’s work fit with a larger narrative, which made it seem more plausible.

“How Do So Many Iguanas Get in Florida Toilet Bowls?” asked the headline in an article in The Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday. The role of the bite victim is played by a locally famous drag queen and performance artist named Gio Profera.

He explained that his 85-year-old grandmother seems genuinely petrified in the video because she was not in on the gag, and still isn’t.

Profera, who lives with his grandmother, said she was used to him having people over to the house for photo shoots and did not suspect anything strange when a cameraman, Christopher Lopez, and a man with a backpack came over.

The man with the backpack excused himself to go to the bathroom and placed the iguana in the toilet, and then Profera went in.

Profera said he was not worried about scaring his grandmother.

“Adrenaline keeps you young,” he said.

As always, Zardulu’s work requires the collaboration of unwitting news organizations. Lopez said he approached Telemundo with his footage because “as a company, they’d rather not check the facts.” A spokesman for Telemundo did not immediately respond to an email for comment.

For those concerned about the welfare of the iguana, Zardulu said the hoax was overseen by a licensed herpetologist in accordance with the American Humane Society’s guidelines for the use of animals in film.

Zardulu, who is based in New York but otherwise reveals nothing about her identity, plied her craft silently for years before beginning to claim authorship of her work last year. Zardulu said her mission remains the same — to return mystery to everyday life by using modern methods of telling and disseminating archetypal myths.

“Deep down,” she said, “we don’t care about the truth. We want myth. We want our feelings and emotions to be represented in symbolic forms.”