Pussy Riot is often labelled a “feminist punk rock band” and classed as a group of political activists. However, true punks rarely give an extensive list of philosophical literature from Diogenes to Slavoj Žižek to justify their work. And true feminists are unlikely to call themselves by a name that resembles that of a porn website. These seemingly hard-to-reconcile ideas were brought together into a single artistic project through the ideology of the group Fluxus – who proclaimed that anything could be considered art. Pussy Riot borrowed another principle from Joseph Beuys, who considered that “Everybody is an artist.”
The group declared that anyone could take part in their performances. The composition of the group has been unstable over time, encompassing up to eight participants – all of whom remained anonymous and gave interviews under pseudonyms, their faces were invariably covered by a balaclava. At the same time, each participant gave serious thought and effort to her visual appearance, carefully choosing her combination of bright tights, dresses and balaclavas. In these uniforms Pussy Riot climbed atop a Moscow tram to declare “Do a Tahrir on the Red Square”; yelled “Death to Prison, Freedom to Protests” from the rooftop of a building built opposite a prison, referencing those prisoners who had been detained during a protest rally; and came out to the execution spot on the Red Square to sing “Riot in Russia – Putin Has Pissed Himself.” Videos of all of these performances were shot and overlaid with studio recording of the songs – and in this format have been published on Youtube, where the group’s performances have been viewed millions of times.
But after the performance “Mother of God, Drive Putin Away” on the 21st February 2012 in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour the merry, reckless carnival came to a halt. The song featured a strong protest against the growing dominance of the church in Russia; in the aftermath, three members of the group were arrested, of whom two (Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova) were sentenced to two years in prison for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”
After twenty-one months in the intolerable of a Russian prison, these fearless young women declared their intention to engage in human rights work to uphold the rights of prisoners. They have continued to shoot videos, arrange performances, write books and have even appeared as themselves in an episode of the famous American television series “House of Cards” – as well as releasing a video disparaging the current US president.