Police presence and public protest marked the opening day, July 30, 2012, of the ‘Pussy Riot’ trial in Moscow. Victims of these ‘banal hooligans with a religious motive’ are hoping to put the group behind bars for 7 years. "When I talk about this event, my heart hurts. It hurts that this is possible in our country," one victim, Lyubov Sokologorskaya said. "Their punishment must be adequate so that never again is such a thing repeated."
The group claims to be a Russian feminist punk-rock art collective, a living counterpart to the 90’s American Riot Grrrl movement. In an interview with The St. Petersburg Times Pussy Riot said, “What we have in common is impudence, politically loaded lyrics, the importance of feminist discourse and a non-standard female image.”
Of the 25 or so people associated with the final YouTube output of Pussy Riot’s performance art, three are on trial. Of the three, two are young mothers. They have been held in custody for five months now following their alleged “hooliganism driven by religious hatred”.
What was their despicable act? Basically, the three hooligans have been charged with praying the wrong kind of prayer in church. Had their prayer been silent and within the confines of the normal congregation, it would only be between Pussy Riot and God. That is not how it happened, and in the end, Pussy Riot, dressed in short, colorful dresses, leggings and balaclavas, entered the soleus, or inner sancum, of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow and performed their ‘Punk Prayer’. Two weeks later they were arrested and have been in police custody ever since.
"So…what is Pussy Riot, really?", I hear you asking me. Well, when I’m going through the articles, the photographs, the videos…hearing the testimony of the “victims”…well, what I see is coordinated intelligence building an iconography and a visceral message larger than the sum of it’s parts. I see a group of people using ALL the tools at their disposal to improve their lives and the lives of those around them by pointing out the hypocrisy of their own society and becoming martyrs to awaken the citizenry by proving the tyrannical intent of their ‘leaders’.
They use mystery, fear, sex, brazen acts and abrasiveness to provoke anger and sympathy. This is using ‘shock value’ to awaken…this is thoughtful dissent disguised as mockery. I don’t know that I have witnessed this kind of artistic control…this kind of radical message branding and intent…since the rise of that McLaren brainstorm the Sex Pistols. Here we have another, somehow more fully formed, example of what was called, in 1977, the "last and greatest outbreak of pop-based moral pandemonium".
The sheer, subtle genius of using the machinations of the State to expose the machinations of the State is as intriguing as it is terrifying! The success of this tactic, seen again all these years after the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, though fascinating and really inspiring, shows that force is the first thing power will resort to to protect itself. Placing their bodies at the mercy of the system, these women have half-awakened the world press. To see reputable news sources’ calling it a ‘show trial’, ‘worse than the Soviet era’ and this ‘Time’ magazine headline today, August 3, 2012, is something amazing, the irony completely missed;
Russia’s Pussy Riot Trial: A Kangaroo Court Goes on a Witch Hunt
Is the ongoing trial of three Russian feminist punk rockers in Moscow a sign of a new tyrannical streak defining the rule of President Vladimir Putin?
Why the Church? Why Putin? Well, these crazy kids grew up with notions left over from the heady days of the 1990’s when Russia appeared to be freeing itself from the kind of repression that’s flowing back under Putin’s reign. The cozy relationship between Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, who called Putin’s time in office a “godly miracle”, and Putin, who promised $120 million to build more Orthodox churches, brought back sour memories and, in February of this year, this highly inventive protest.
The church is now playing the victim card, going so far as to compare the Pussy Riot performance to the persecution the church faced from the Bolsheviks under communist rule. The State is clamping down, arresting those who protest in any meaningful way outside the courthouse, freezing the groups’ lawyer’s bank accounts and ‘disappearing’ Nadezhda’s philosophy professor, who was to testify on her behalf.
The citizenry are responding and their response has evolved since March, when the young women were arrested. The majority of Russians now support Pussy Riot and feel the government is going too far. The swing in opinion is forcing Putin to call for ‘leniency’. There is something of an artistic revolution happening around the group, with hundreds of photos and several videos being generated to venerate the women and what they stand for.
What do they stand for? Is there a philosophy major in this bunch, or what? When I first began researching/following this story I stumbled upon an interview (manifesto) with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. She happens to be a student in visual arts and a fourth year philosophy student. Punk Retrospective was inspired, using a quote from that manifesto, to create this picture as part of a ‘thoughtful dissent’ meme we’ve been pushing on our Facebook page:
Here is the article the quote comes from:
Many news sources are calling Nadezhda Tolokonnikova the face of Pussy Riot, falling so quickly into the traps of the ingrained thinking patterns of the civilized world. The point of the balaclavas is that ANYONE can be a member of Pussy Riot. Today saw the release of video with male protesters being arrested on the rooftop at the courthouse in Moscow. True, the visual artist/ philosophy major obviously plays a pivotal role in the thinking behind Pussy Riot actions, but the other two charged women, Maria Alekhina and Ekaterina Samucevich, are also highly educated and artistic.
So, what does it all mean? To me this means Pussy Riot must be studied and revered, even as we fight for their release in whatever ways we can. The force of change moving through the situation created by the minds of these artists and thinkers is more than impressive. This is what ‘punk rock’ is supposed to be at its most fundamental level. This is what I see as the beginning of the Pussy Riot Enlightenment Doctrine: Do not be fooled into thinking that you can accomplish anything by pure shock value. Your motives must be clear in your mind before you attempt to create on this level…but do not let that frighten you away. It would be a shame to allow the momentum and lessons of Pussy Riot go to waste. Choose your issue, educate yourself, question the dominant paradigm, create a meaningful stance and iconography to go with it, but this cannot be faked…do all of this with your full heart and mind and freedom and you may achieve something as glorious as the hooligan art collective known as Pussy Riot.
Art and Human Manifesto (different from the previous manifesto)
Free Pussy Riot Now! (Putin, fear no art.) on Facebook
Free Pussy Riot Two on Facebook
FreePussyRiot.org on Facebook