Zaida Pugh selling crickets and worms on the D Train (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic via YouTube)

A “crazed woman” who threw live crickets and worms all over a crowded subway car in New York claimed the bug-throwing was a performance art stunt gone horribly wrong and was subsequently arrested by the NYPD.

The self-proclaimed artist, 21-year-old Brooklynite Zaida Pugh, was charged with reckless endangerment, obstructing governmental administration, falsely reporting an incident, and disorderly conduct, sources told the New York Daily News.

In case you haven’t seen the viral video of the incident — which, it turns out, was filmed by Pugh’s friends — it is 18 minutes of mayhem: A shrieking Pugh in a turquoise onesie tries to sell crickets and worms to D train passengers, one of whom screams “this bitch got bugs in a bucket.” When a teenager hits the bug bucket, 600 crickets and worms go flying. Screaming passengers pull the emergency brake, causing the train to get stuck on the Manhattan Bridge for a half-hour, during which Pugh urinates on the worm-covered floor.

YouTube video

“She was banging on the doors and trying to climb out the windows. Everyone had crickets on their arms. My girlfriend was crying,” one passenger told the New York Post. “Then some men were trying to hold her down and she started trying to throw up on them.”

The arrest on Tuesday came shortly after a tearful Pugh recorded a Facebook Live video in which she apologizes for the stunt and claims to fear for her life. “There are people that really hate me … probably want me dead. That’s not the type of attention I wanted,” said Pugh. “I just really had a dream and I wanted it to go far. I wanted to spread messages out there, and I didn’t want it to happen like this.” Some netizens expressed sympathy for Pugh, while others accused her of being a selfish attention-seeker crying “crocodile tears.” 

The “messages” she said she wanted to spread concerned how New Yorkers treat homeless and mentally ill people on the subway: “I did this to show how people react to situations with homeless people and people with mental health,” Pugh told Fusion. “How they’re more likely to pull out their phone than help.”

Art or not, the police say the stunt was downright dangerous. “She put people at risk,” Robert Boyce, the New York Police Department’s chief of detectives, told reporters. Passengers “could have had heart attacks,” he said, or been emotionally scarred by the crickets and the worms. It could’ve been worse, though: Pugh told reporters she’d originally planned to use hissing cockroaches instead of crickets. “I think it would have been way worse if I’d have the roaches,” she said, though it might have earned her epic fail of a “performance” a place in the cockroach art hall of fame.

The actress and performance artist has done more than 50 similar “pranks,” including pretending to stab a baby in a video that went viral, and which she claimed was meant as “a wake up call to everybody.” She did not specify what “everybody” needs to “wake up” from.

Facing an uncertain fate in NYPD custody, Pugh fears her future art career is doomed. “My dreams for being an actress or whatever, that’s going to go down the drain,” she said in her Facebook Live video. Maybe not, though: Comedian Eric Andre, known for his subway pranks involving dressing up as a centaur and dropping cakes on commuters, sent live rats running over Stacey Dash’s feet in a recent episode of his talk show. Perhaps Andre will hire Pugh once she’s out of jail.

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Baffler, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.

14 replies on “NYPD Arrests Performance Artist Who Threw Crickets and Worms in Subway Car”

  1. And it’s things like this, folks, that raise bright red flags whenever someone says, “Oh you dont understand: it’s ART.”

    Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s a bad idea drunkenly scribbled on a cocktail napkin at three in the morning, all the while pretending to be a “message”. And sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

        1. I use too. As a spectator, sitting safely at home on my computer watching YouTube…yes its absurdly entertaining.

  2. I could almost, ALMOST, cut her a break. But she lost me at urinating on the worm covered floor of the subway car. Maybe I was lost anyway.

    1. To be fair, the stabbing was never meant to be art. The patrons at Art Basel are so far up their own ass that it’s not surprising that an incident like that would not alarm the people in the direct vicinity. I’m not sure I understand why you think the art market worships it though. Once it was discovered that it wasn’t a performance piece people were horrified… And it didn’t have any positive effect on the sales of art, so I don’t understand your point at all.

      Back to the cricket lady…
      the charges against her are a little crazy… In the video she wasn’t the one to disperse the crickets, there was a man behind her that knocked them out of her hand, effectively throwing them everywhere. He then seemed to attack her. Was it inapropitiate for her to try a stunt like that? Maybe, but I think it’s unfair not to charge the man with assault. He’s the one to cause the actual chaos… But then again I wasn’t there and it’s really hard to tell what actually happened from the video provided… Also whoever edited the video is awful.

      1. To be fair she was definitely at fault for doing certain things like urinating, but if she really did lose control of herself, she might be in need some actual psychiatric help rather being thrown in jail.

        1. The person who knocked the box out of Cricket Lady’s hand was part of her Art Team. Cricket Lady, like so many artists today, employs assistants for the performance and fabrication of her art.

          Small world that it is, a friend was in that car (he’s seen in some of the videos) sitting next to a pregnant woman who broke into tears during the chaos. He, however was not part of the Art Team, having only the wish to commute to the city and not be covered in crickets and worms. Ahhh to dream!

          1. lol, cest la vie… well I’m sorry for your friend. It must have been horrifying, for a lot of reasons.

            Ah, well I think her art team (such as it is) should probably also face charges. It’s strange that someone who wants to address the issues of how people treat or see homeless and people that need psychiatric care would largely use really ugly stereotypes to get her message across. It’s really offensive all the way around this “piece”. I do sympathize with her for failing at a piece of public art but she really needs to make sure she understands consent when it comes to these things. A subway car is a bad place for several reasons but mainly because everybody is already feeling claustrophobic and uncomfortable. She needs to understand that performance art is an important art form, but it’s almost harder than any other art form out there because there’s a level safety and precaution that needs to be taken. I’m not sure what good she was expecting from this one… I’m surprised that none of her friends stopped her before it happened.

            I will say that she seems to be in a rather unstable place right now and is talking somewhat cryptically about committing suicide. I’ve seen artists fail at making good work but none of them have their failure plastered on the web or the news. Mostly because they don’t make anyone fear for their lives, but that aside its not hard to make bad art and it’s certainly not hard to make bad performance art. She needs someone to help her get better, she needs someone to teach her how to make a piece where the audience gets to choose how they interact based on their comfort level. She should never make a piece with a captive audience that didn’t choose to view her work first.

            If what you’re saying is true, then she and her team should face charges together. And I hope they do, it was irresponsible and dangerous. I also hope that she can recover and learn from this and how to make work that isn’t life threatening.

  3. She may be an artist. Then, again, she may not be an artist. But none of that matters to the open-minded, non judgemental and compassionate: only “self-identification” is relevant and meaningful for the enlightened,

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