Pussy Riot and the Saga of Punk Rock Protest Art

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By Stephanie Bajzik

 

The Russian feminist punk rock group called Pussy Riot has managed to perfect what is known as protest art. Based out of Moscow and formed back in August of 2011, the group consists of about 11 women. These female activists stage unauthorized guerilla performances in strange and unexpected locations. The provocative shows are then edited into music videos and shared online. With lyrical themes which include feminism, gay and lesbian rights as well as blatant opposition to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Pussy Riot has gained their share of enemies.

In February of 2012, five Pussy Riot members organized a performance at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Church security ceased the show. However, by the end of the day, the group had managed to post their new music video of the show entitled “Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!” The protest was said to be focused on the Orthodox Church leader’s backing for Putin throughout the election campaign.

Within a matter of a couple of weeks, two Pussy Riot members were arrested and charged with “hooliganism.” After being denied bail, these women were detained until their trial date towards July’s end. Convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” in the country, they were each sentenced to two years of imprisonment. After February’s protest performance, it is speculated that at least two members of Pussy Riot left Russia for fear of prosecution.

Pussy Riot

The trial and its subsequent sentencing has effectively attracted a great deal of criticism. This is especially prevalent in the United States where the case has been taken up by a number of human rights groups such as Amnesty International. Though this unfortunate case is widely known and frowned upon, the public in Russia has been much less sympathetic when it comes to the feminist activists. The president of Russia has made a few public statements concerning the group including that the band “undermined the moral foundations” of the nation. He claims that the women “got what they asked for.”

Finally, in late December of 2013, the women were released due to amnesty which was approved by the State Duma. An anonymous statement was released on behalf of the band that the two women were no longer members of Pussy Riot. However, both were with the group for Pussy Riot’s performance at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The Sochi performance ended quite badly when the members were attacked viciously with whips and pepper spray by Cossacks. The two band members released from imprisonment were later assaulted and seriously injured at a fast food restaurant by the local youth.

This groundbreaking Russian musical group was arranged largely from growing anger in the nation over what they deemed discriminatory government policies. Pussy Riot cited legislation which “placed restrictions on legal abortions” as one of the numerous examples of Russia’s sexist policies. Their mass appeal has gained attention among some of the Western World’s most famous names like Madonna, Lady Gaga and even Paul McCartney.

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