Pussy Riot


pussy-riot-tom tom magazine female drummers

Tom Tom is excited to present contributions from several authors on recent events surrounding the Russian band Pussy Riot. Pussy Riot’s imprisonment and trial drew much-needed attention to critical conversations about politics, feminism, and creative freedom in the international media. Erica Flores (Rock Camp for Girls Los Angeles/Lost Beats) wrote a summary of recent events; Los Angeles artist/writer AL Steiner contributed a fierce personal piece on Pussy Riot’s confrontation of patriarchal structures, and lastly, sts (Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls/STLS) and Bree McKenna (The Stranger/Tacocat, Seattle WA) reflect on the influence of PR on their communities and themselves.  News reports as of mid-September 2012 indicate that high-level leaders in Russia’s government may be pushing for Pussy Riot’s release. Tom Tom hopes this is the case. Regardless, we are thankful for the work they have done to bring some critical issues to the forefront of global political conversations, and encourage our readers to take inspiration from their courage and expression in their own work. —Lisa Schonberg

 pussy-riot-tom tom magazine female drummers

Erica Flores

Over the past few months, the world has been captivated by the case of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, known collectively as Pussy Riot. Their guerilla punk protest in a cathedral and subsequent trial turned the group into one of the most fascinating cause célèbres in recent memory. Countless articles have been penned in the wake of their Kafka-esque trial and sentencing, most focused on trying to decipher Pussy Riot’s intentions. Placing the group in a larger cultural and historical context, it becomes clear that the question isn’t so much “What did they mean?” as “Where will this lead?”

Formed in the fall of 2011, Pussy Riot is a collective of around 30 members, some performers and some more technical members responsible for editing videos and uploading them to the internet. Taking their musical cues from riot grrrls of the ’90s, the band combines overtly feminist lyrics with confrontational performances. Visually, their style is a nod to the Guerilla Girls and the Zapatistas, groups that appropriated masks as a means of protection and to underscore the nebulous structure of a collective. Anyone sympathetic to the cause can don a mask and claim the movement as their own. In a way, the band itself is an amalgamation of the two — politically minded performance artists who have been punished by an oppressive government unwilling to acknowledge any criticism of corruption.

Pussy Riot is not the first band to use performance art as a means of political protest, but they are the first to do so in a way that adapts historical and contemporary political contexts to a 21st century global media framework. In doing so, Pussy Riot has shown that they are well versed in their philosophical and activist ancestry not only in their messaging, but in their usage of mediums as well. It sounds hyperbolic, but consider that Pussy Riot went from a small guerilla performance in a subway station to being discussed in public interviews by global leaders, philosophers, and the world’s biggest pop stars in under a year.

Pussy Riot’s use of social media is noteworthy for a few reasons. The group acknowledges influences of philosophers like Guy Debord, so it would be naïve to disregard the idea that they grasped the potential of social media as a means of spectacle. In fact, the collective’s understanding of the importance of the social relationship between people and mediated images is exactly what helped make the videos go viral.

Their first videos, “Release the Cobblestones” and “Kropotkin Vodka,” featured the band performing in a Moscow metro station, inside a high end department store, and on a (disrupted) fashion show runway. Spectators to the performances seem equally bemused, confused, and annoyed. Their next performances took place on carefully chosen political locations – directly outside a jail and Lobnoye Mesto, the “Place of Skulls.” (The latter of which has incorrectly long been rumored to be a site of executions, but was in fact mainly used by tsars to announce new decrees.)

In a pragmatic sense, the viral nature of the videos was a predicating factor in their arrest. The band was immediately (albeit briefly) arrested after the performance of “Putin Pissed Himself” at Place of Skulls, but arrests and detentions for their performance at the church did not occur for a few weeks after the video was posted. Whether this was due to the impending election, the fear of more Russian dissidents mobilizing, or the simple logistics in finding the Pussy Riot members (or any combination of the three) is anyone’s guess.

The punk prayer at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow is the protest that landed Pussy Riot in court.  In the run up to the 2012 election, Putin courted Orthodox Church officials in hopes of using endorsements from the church to quell civil unrest from those opposed to his third term. Patriarch Kirill I, leader of the Orthodox Church, happily obliged, declaring Putin’s rule “a gift from God.” Pussy Riot’s performance at the cathedral focused on the collusive relationship between Putin and the Church, calling for the Virgin Mary to drive Putin out, ending his rule.

Finding themselves subject to very public criticisms, the Church and Putin lashed out. While much has been said of their trial, it is best summarized as a cartoonish exercise in futility. A parade of “victims” testified on behalf of the prosecution, claiming to be morally scarred by the 40 second performance. A number of the witnesses for the state did not actually witness the protest at the cathedral, and instead recalled the horror of watching the video on YouTube. The prosecution argued the performance was not a political protest, but an act of blasphemy and hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and possibly Satanism. Repeatedly, the defense’s questions and witnesses were dismissed.

The absurdity of the trial was reported throughout the world, and prompted many public figures to voice their concern. In the end, no one was surprised when the guilty verdict came down. While it’s understood that the global support Pussy Riot received played a factor in downgrading their labor camp sentences to two years, Putin’s crackdown on Pussy Riot has served an example to those daring to be critical of his return to power.

Why does the case of Pussy Riot resonate with so many? Their courage in standing up to injustice serves as a point of inspiration to many, for one. Additionally, they’ve prompted many larger conversations about politics, feminism, and arts. Pussy Riot’s strength lies in the fact that they are an idea, first and foremost. The appropriation of masks only reinforces the virility and virality of this idea – we are all Pussy Riot. They aren’t selling you records; they’re calling for a revolution. As recent political discourse in the US has demonstrated, the need for revolution isn’t limited to one nation. It’s exciting to consider the possibilities of global change if we follow suit, take agency in our own lives, and heed their call.

 

 

A. L. Steiner

 REPRISE: THE PATRIARCHY IS A PYRAMID SCHEME

Thousands of millenia of women’s herstory destroyed, marginalized, ignored, dismissed, and ERASED. Corrupted history — the MYTH of women as weak, helpless, passive participants in world history — is over. What we think we know regarding genius and culture is an absurdist PATRIARCHAL FANTASY. Another delightful FARCE brought to you by rapists in robes and suits. What is known as truth is a LIE. A man-god in the sky does not exist, and those men who say they speak for a man-god in the sky are liars. Their believers DELUDED. Nobody has the right to give us rights. HOW DARE YOU. I do not want your ROTTEN CARCASSES. WE are the CONCEIVERS. Our bodies and minds are the battleground for a fierce FIGHT.

Pussy Riot Collective: disrupted and infiltrated the tyrannical church, the nation-state hierarchy, interrupted the multinational entertainment marketing apparatchik with a public service announcement: YOUR TIME IS UP. YOUR MINDS WARPED. YOUR MONIES CORRUPT. YOUR LIES EXPOSED.YOUR HATE CRIPPLING. YOUR WEAPONS FLACCID. YOUR PRISONS FULL. YOUR HOLINESS A SICK JOKE. YOUR REIGN OVER. YOU’RE FULL OF SHIT.

Pussy Riots are HEROINES and warriors, revered for their bravery and courage. Will TRAMPLE on those who trample. Some frame pussies as demons and destroyers; drowning sounds of the PATRIARCHY1. You are scared. Your solutions always the same: confinement, torture, imprisonment, rape, silence, abuse, lies, plunder, pillage, disfigurement, disappearances, murder. You can never succeed. Your impulse is desperation. To destroy others you must destroy yourself. We remain strong. We remain resilient. We remain present. OUR TIME HAS COME2. Statues of our heroism, reverence for our deeds, value for our lives, power in our actions. It is time to learn the failures of your misogyny. PUSSY RIOT is the artist, the genius, the author, the educator, the voice, the conscience, the expert. The riot takes risks, confronts vulnerabilities, propagates new meanings, exposes fractures, remakes the world in HER OWN IMAGE. A pussy riot can only be seen by those who can see. The riot is feminist. We DECLARE the next great moment in HERSTORY IS OURS3.

 

1 http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/21/opinion/the-wrong-reasons-to-back-pussyriot.

html?_r=1&smid=fb-share

2 Export, Valie, “Women’s Art: A Manifesto”, 1972

3 Iannone, Dorothy, “The Next Great Moment in History is Ours”, 1970/71, silkscreen

 

 

sts

Pussy Riot captured my community’s attention more than any other recent case of injustice against social activists. These cases are common, and the fate of the three women representing Pussy Riot isn’t among the worst.  I hope my community will honor their dissent and bravery and follow other cases of injustice with similar fervor. I hope our outrage extends to calling for justice everywhere, not just with the women we can identify with as artists singing songs that say “fuck you” to the man.  I can’t tolerate the thought of going to jail.  I think imprisonment would break me.  For her print “No Los Olvidamos/We Haven’t Forgotten You,” artist Thea Gahr writes:

 

Thinking of those in prison;

thinking about the force of nature and resistance

supporting them in spirit.

We are here and we continue fighting for liberty,

freedom, and justice.

 

 

Bree McKenna

This weekend, after the two year sentences were doled out, I painted “Pussy Riot” across the front of a shirt before playing a show in Missoula, MT. I was surprised at the reaction the shirt drew from strangers. I met my friend’s parents, and a bandmate remarked that we would probably have to explain what “Pussy Riot” meant. Of course the father immediately made an informed remark about Putin vs. Madonna. [While] loading out later, a drunken bachelorette party was passing by, and when they noticed the shirt they screamed, “HEY!!! PUSSY RIOT?!! Whoohoo!! We’ve been taking shots to them all night!” Whoa. I guess I hadn’t noticed quite how far their story had resonated throughout the mainstream media. I’ve read a few disaffected comments, complaining that their story is being covered too much, how other injustices around the world warrant more attention. If nothing else, the media blasting has made people aware of a blatant injustice. Pussy Riot embodies the spirit necessary to instigate change — let’s hope that it does.

 

pussy-riot-tom tom magazine female drummers

 

Read what the NY Times had to say about them here

 

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