Sunday, June 28, 2015

What is Pussy Riot?

by Drew Martin
Yesterday I watched Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer on Netflix, which focuses on the crash show of the collective punk band Pussy Riot at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour on the bank of the Moscow River in 2012, in which they shocked the members of the church with their performance and lyrics that included, Shit! Shit! It's God's shit!

This church, in particular, has a lot to be sensitive about. It was built from coins scraped together by peasants in 1812. After the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and their anti-religious policy it fell into disrepair, was defaced and finally it was imploded in 1931. A public swimming pool was built in its place but after the collapse of the Soviet Union the cathedral was rebuilt.

Even though Russia is a secular state, the Christian Orthodox Church has a great pull on many of the citizens and the 
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which Putin attends, is criticized by the band as a place where the church and state has been fused together.

So Pussy Riot, which was born out of the disruptive performing arts group Voina (War), saw it as a place fit for their intervention. They barely got started when they were dragged out by security. Three members were caught and charged with hooliganism.

Two of those members, 
Nadezhda "Nadia" Tolokonnikova and Maria "Masha" Alyokhina received two year terms at separate penal colonies. While a third member, Yekaterina "Katia" Samutsevich, was released after seven months, which is when the film is wrapped up.

Tolokonnikova, pictured left (top), kissing the female policewoman below that, nude in the center of the third picture down, on the left in the trial cage, and bottom - left in the still from House of Cards (season 3, episode 3) was the leader of the group, and part of Voina, as was Samutsevich, pictured far right in the trial cage.

Two of the previous performances by Voina covered in the film (to give some background of some of Pussy Riot's key members) were Kissing a Cop, in which women from the group aggressively threw themselves at female Russian policewomen and smooched them. The act, they said was to sexually liberate the militant officers.

The other performance was the flash romp in 2008 where members stripped down and had sex in the Moscow Biological Museum. The eight-month pregnant 
Tolokonnikova participated with her husband and father of that child, Pyotr Verzilov. Verzilov, who speaks English quite well, became an international voice for Pussy Riot while his wife and other members were detained for their trial and eventual imprisonment.

The still from the House of Cards episode here shows 
Tolokonnikova, Verzilov, and Alyokhina, (who is also sitting next to Tolokonnikova in the trial cage). This kind of popular fame seems like a hollow, plastic consolation prize for their original revolutionary cause, and raises the question if the kind of attention they seek is more of a desperate cry to be noticed, especially by Tolokonnikova who grew up in a broken home, than a true protest. Although they took political aim against Putin's totalitarian regime, they ended up as marketing propaganda for Madonna, and a stylized punk-feminist facade.

Watch the trailer: