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Amplify

Graphic Narratives of Feminist Resistance
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback eBook
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Excerpt

Part Three: Feminism and Resistance Collectives

 

Chapter 4. Pussy Riot

 

In the 2000s, in Moscow, a collective of university students, artists, and activists formed a performance art group named Voina. The group (the word voina means war in Russian) performed ironic, witty, and clever performances aimed at government corruption, repression of LGBTQIIA communities, and police brutality. Perhaps their most infamous stunt was a large drawing of a penis and testicles on a drawbridge in front of the KGB station in Moscow; when the drawbridge was raised, the penis lifted, pointing in the direction of the KGB. The acts of Voina were recorded and spread through YouTube videos and international social media; the members, however, remained under the radar.

 

Pussy Riot emerged from a Voina LGBTQIIA rights action. Members of Voina approached police officers, asked for directions, and thanked the police officers with an enthusiastic embrace and kiss on the mouth. These exchanges were coordinated to only be same-sex encounters, but male members of Voina made excuses to avoid involvement. The women of Voina went ahead with the action, and from the women’s success came the idea for Pussy Riot, a women-led performance art collective with a focus on gender and sexual orientation rights and freedoms.

 

The collective first formed in August 2011 with eleven members between the ages of twenty and forty-two. Nadhezhda Tolokonnikova (Nadya), Maria Alyokhina (Masha), and Yekaterina Samutsevich (Kat) were three of the continuing and permanent members. Kat, Masha, and Nadya were arrested in 2012 for their participation in the performance of “Punk Prayer, Mother of God Chase Putin Away” in a Russian Orthodox Church. In prison the women became activists for their fellow inmates, and once released, Nadya and Masha returned to Pussy Riot activities and performances, enduring violent attacks from Russian police and citizens.

 

Openly feminist and advocating for queer rights, Pussy Riot uses the lively medium of punk music and original Russian lyrics to express its protest message. Pussy Riot performances are taped by collective members and shared on YouTube; even when three members were imprisoned, the messages of Pussy Riot were shared around the world. Feminists worldwide engage in transnational feminist practice when they learn from Pussy Riot; in recent actions, men and women have worn colored balaclavas and formed their own Pussy Riot collectives to advocate for transgender rights and reproductive freedom in the United States and across Europe. Inspired by Pussy Riot, men and women around the world have come together to fight for the rights of women and LGBTQIIA people and for freedom of expression.

 

Discussion Questions

  1. For what crime were the women of Pussy Riot imprisoned, and how long was their sentence? Under what circumstances were they released?
  2. What was the environment in court while the women of Pussy Riot were being tried?
  3. Is it ever acceptable to violate laws or religious or social norms for sake of social or political change? When, and why or why not?

Research Questions and Activities

  1. In Russia, Pussy Riot was criticized for showing disrespect to a symbol of religious tradition, an orthodox church. Does Pussy Riot’s criticism of both the state and the church compromise or strengthen their feminist civil rights critique?
  2. Pussy Riot’s video of their song “Make America Great Again” criticizes American immigration and reproductive rights laws. What is the role of international feminist groups in critiquing Western feminism, and how might this critique relate to transnational feminist practices?
  3. Research the history of punk music in feminist activism, and find out which other feminists have been involved with feminist punk music.
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