Update: Pussy Riot, “Anonymous” Leaders of an Art Revolution

According to Laurie Penny, blogger extraordinaire at the New Statesman, “Pussy Riot aren’t just on tour. They’re on the run.”

She writes: “When we meet in a secret location in central London, they make it clear that this interview is on condition of anonymity. The Russian punk-feminist protest group… are wanted by their government, who have branded them extremists for their stand against religious patriarchy and the Putin regime. It will be illegal to read or share this article in Russia.

“There’s a media war in our country,” says the one who, today, is calling herself ‘Serafima’, whispering painfully through a sore throat. Since three members of the group, Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alyokhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova, were tried and sent to labour camps last year, Pussy Riot has been attacked in almost every press outlet in Russia. The international outcry on their behalf goes unmarked. “Katya did not realise there was so much support until she was released. When we were in Russia, we didn’t fully understand, but now we see there truly is huge support,” says Serafima. She asks for a translation of a German proverb she knows: “Nobody is a prophet in their own country.”

Because of the very real danger that these young women will be arrested when they go back to Russia, every journalist who speaks to them must promise to reveal no identifying details…. What I can tell you is that she looks tired.”

Penny’s article is a close-up view of these remarkable activists, bringing up the art part of the activism as well as the cost of their necessary, ongoing public presence, linking their leaderless feminist politics and their aesthetic challenge.

 A demonstrator against Pussy Riot's prison sentence in London, 2012. Photo: Getty


A demonstrator against Pussy Riot’s prison sentence in London, 2012. Photo: Getty

“There are two reasons why we frighten people,” says Schumacher, popping a chocolate biscuit into her mouth. “The first thing is that we’re a feminist, female group with no men connected to it, and the second is that we don’t have leaders.

“These two aspects, the structure that has no leaders and the emphasis on women, these are strongly connected. Russia has always linked the idea of leadership with some man or other, who can control things, and control women. A woman’s group with no leaders… this activism comes from a place people do not recognise, and sets itself up against the structures of power.”

Penny believes they are the beginning of an international art movement against the limitation of free expression.

“In travelling, we have understood that this isn’t just about Pussy Riot, but about a broader movement…” says Schumacher. “We met people from Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Sandy in New York, and we agree with what they’re doing. It turns out that at we inspired people, and now we are inspired ourselves. This is really key, because any living person can become Pussy Riot, if they support the ideas. We support third wave feminism, and we want to bring that wave to a finish,”.

“It’s like when Marcel Duchamp posed the question of ‘what is art?’” says Serafima softly…. “I reckon that we asked a similar question – it just takes time for everybody to understand.” Duchamp didn’t have much time for women, but he did say that “art is either plagiarism or revolution.” Pussy Riot are originals. Their manifesto is a call to action – “we are open-source-extremists, the feminist virus infecting your thoughts.” In a time of bland hegemony, that takes unbelievable guts.”

READ MORE OF PENNY’S ESSAY, and be sure to catch the fascinating discussion going on in the comments!

Read my earlier blog essay on Pussy Riot’s dissident leadership.

4 comments

  1. […] the status quo at great personal risk. Whatever we think of their tactics, they’ve drawn international attention to the problems of Russian society, from a feminist punk point of […]

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  2. […] Riot is a brilliant, controversial model for a viral art movement, irreverent, organized and leaderless. In honor of the madness of today’s full moon, […]

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  3. […] punishments for speaking out or working together. Although her status as an international leader of a viral activist movement has protected her from beatings and perhaps death, she is currently being held in solitary […]

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  4. […] The punk rock political activist group, Pussy Riot, came to the US  to share their perspective on the Olympics, after getting international attention for their disruptive, disrespectful protests (a.k.a hooliganism, punishable by imprisonment and forced labor in Putin’s Russia). Or, as they said on the Colbert Report, “We sang a fun song in a church.” In effect, these art activists focused international attention on Putin’s repressive policies by becoming victims of his laws against free speech in public, serving two-year sentences and reporting on prison conditions as Pussy Riot became an international movement. […]

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