The revolution should be done by women.
Recently, a punk rock band has been causing a stir in Russia. In December, they played a protest song, “Death To Prison, Freedom To Protest,” on a building next to a prison holding political protestors. In mid-January, they performed outside of the Kremlin and sang lyrics expressing anti-Putin sentiments. And earlier this week, they staged an impromptu concert at Christ the Savior Cathedral, which lasted until security stepped in five minutes later. The band is Pussy Riot, and as the name suggests, their style of activism is not quiet or subtle. They are using music and performance art to make radical, feminist political statements.
In a way, Pussy Riot is Russia’s answer to Guerrilla Girls On Tour and the riot grrrl movement. They use stage names and wear bright knitted masks to conceal their identities. Their blend of music and activism works seamlessly because, to them, art and politics are “one and the same.” But what they are doing is larger than that, too. Their art is not art for art’s sake, nor is it art that just happens to be political. Their work is very intentional and focused on mobilizing action and political change through art.
They formed in the fall, after Vladimir Putin announced his Presidential candidacy, and have since “become the latest symbol of young Russian discontent.” They do not consider themselves musicians, necessarily — rather, they have chosen punk rock as their form of protest as they knew it would be an effective way to mobilize and inspire people and to get people to pay attention to their messages. And as evidenced by the international coverage they are receiving, people are definitely paying attention.
As may be expected, Pussy Riot is receiving considerable backlash, particularly after Tuesday’s Cathedral performance. From The Huffington Post:
Boris Yakemenko, leader of the youth movement “Orthodox Body,” told [Russian news site] Izvestiya that the group just pulled the stunt for publicity.
“Any filth is always more visible against a clean background,” Yakemenko told Izvestiya. “If they had done this in a brothel, nobody would have noticed. It is for people like this that churches are needed.”
Their protests have also resulted in arrests, but most often they have received fines rather than jail time. Garazhda explains, “For now, they don’t beat or jail us as much.”
I am a firm believer in art as a tool for social justice. I find art to be a particularly compelling form of protest, because it is non-violent, and it connects to people on emotional levels. And punk music is an exciting medium of protest, because it is energetic and aggressive, making it difficult for onlookers to ignore the style and the content. I love Pussy Riot’s method of protest. It is loud, it is bold, and it is distinct. Though it may have roots in earlier feminist actions, like riot grrrl, Pussy Riot is unique to Russia and the feminists who live there. As Garazhda stated, “There’s a deep tradition in Russia of gender and revolution – we’ve had amazing women revolutionaries.” And Pussy Riot is here to carry on that tradition.
Pussy Riot will continue staging performances from now until the Presidential election in March, which Putin is expected to win. They have not announced what their plans are for after the election, but I hope we will be seeing more of Pussy Riot for awhile. In the year since the Arab Spring began, there has been a major surge in political and social justice protests around the world — and Pussy Riot is a welcome addition to that environment. It is refreshing to see a protest of this nature that specifically identifies itself as feminist and pro-women’s rights, in addition to advocating for more general social justice and human rights issues. I hope they stick around.