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Russian punk band Pussy Riot visits Phoenix

Allison Cripe
Mesa Legend

Alli_pic2BNW“Me and my classmates had a question,” a young girl nervously asks into a microphone. The girl is speaking to Maria Alyokhina, a member of Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot. The band visited Synagogue Beth Hebrew in downtown Phoenix on Feb. 16 for “A Conversation with Pussy Riot: Art, Sex, and Disobedience,” an event presented by Stateside Presents and Changing Hands Bookstore.  “We were all wondering: are you proud to be Russian?” the girl asked. Masha, another band member, made a shocked grimace. “Yes, of course,” she replied. The question was simple yet loaded, presented with the same kind of confusion that filled Russia after the group’s guerrilla performance on Feb. 21, 2012 at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. As part of the performance, five members donned colorful balaclavas, dresses, and hurried onto the altar.  They were only able to play for 30 seconds until forcibly removed by Russian police.

Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot spoke on the topics of politics and human rights in their home country.
Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot spoke on the topics of politics and human rights in their home country.

The performance was an attempted protest against Russian president Vladimir Putin.  After garnering international recognition for the mishandling of their court trial, the group gained attention for civil rights in Russia, as well as sparking protests.  Citizens around the globe protested their arrest via webcam and social media, as well as taking to the streets.  Musicians such as Madonna, Peaches, and Paul McCartney spoke out on behalf of the band, often using the slogan, “Free Pussy Riot.” The event in Phoenix started with a 13-minute clip from a documentary titled “Act and Punishment,” giving an overview of the band’s history, followed by a Q-and-A.  The first question asked was about the reason for the name, with the simple answer that it’s enjoyable to say and not meant to be offensive.

As for the location of their arrest, the members replied that of course this was no coincidence.  The group made the decision to play at the cathedral because of Patriarch Kirill, the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, and his decision to advocate on behalf of Putin.  “In Russia, if you do activism, you must be prepared for anything. Of course we didn’t expect prison. We didn’t expect such an enormous amount of people would support us,” the group said.
They expressed wanting to use non-classical methods of activism, inspired by Russian avant-garde as well as Riot Grrrl music.

Another topic brought up was Trump. “You can choose in elections. In Russia, the situation was like no choice. We had no choice but to go to the streets and protest the situation,” they said. According to the band, most of Russia at the time of Putin’s succession was outraged, and the band immediately began forming their plans. “2011 was a time of activists. We felt like successors of the movement in mini-skirts,” the members said. Other activists were mentioned as well, such as performance artist Petr Pavlensky, who sewed his mouth shut as an action against the group’s arrest.  He continued with several other acts of protest until his own arrest in 2013, after lighting the doors of the headquarters of the FSB, Russia’s security service, on fire in an action he called “The Burning Door of the Lubyanka.”

Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot spoke on the topics of politics and human rights in their home country.The FSB headquarters, the band said, was a place used for interrogations and holdings during the Soviet Era, a symbol of Putin’s ties to both the FSB and the KGB. Another concern for the group is the growing concern for the safety of the LGBT community in Russia.  “People are killed because they are gay. They commit suicide. People have to leave the country. The police does nothing,” the group said, sparking discussions within the audience and at the microphone. “I was most moved by the discussion on civil rights,” Cindy Dach, a co-organizer with Changing Hands, said. “And I think the Q-and-A really reflected the passion for civil rights.” The band also mentioned that they’re planning a feminism museum as well as still protesting and performing, in spite of being publicly whipped and beaten in 2014 by Cossacks.

The entire attack was captured on video, but none of the attackers were arrested. “Pussy Riot is a movement now,” Maria added toward the end of the Q-and-A. “Fear is destroying youth from completing their goals. Look straight into the eyes of fear. If you laugh at (your fears), they start to deteriorate.”

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These are archived stories from Mesa Legend editions before Fall 2018. See article for corresponding author.

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