Pussy Riot on Punk and Putin

Powering into Adelaide with their story of protest, Pussy Riot tell us what it means to have international support

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Pussy Riot
Published 08 Feb 2019

Pussy Riot are Russia’s most famous activist collective. They are also a punk band, best-selling authors, a touring theatre troupe and a human rights media organisation; but most of all they are tireless, strategic protestors.

Specialising in digitally savvy political actions, their pitch invasion at the 2018 World Cup final – in front of Putin himself – sparked a thousand gifs. With concise demands and those iconic neon balaclavas, Pussy Riot can capture the world’s attention whenever they choose.

Riot Days is half punk show, half spoken word. An adaptation of Maria ‘Masha’ Alyokhina’s autobiography of the same name, it begins with the group’s now infamous anti-corruption protest in a Moscow cathedral in 2012. Masha, with co-founders Nadzhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich, called for a separation of church and state (“Virgin Mary, Mother of God, banish Putin”) but was sentenced on false charges of religious hatred. Riot Days follows Masha’s incarceration in a penal colony, where she campaigned for fair wages and the right to visit a lawyer without intrusive strip searches. It’s testimony to unimaginable bravery, told in surreal vignettes that reveal a piercing sense of humour.

"The goal is to show people that even in oppressive, difficult circumstances, they can win," says producer Sasha Cheparukhin. He once ran Russia’s largest arts festivals until his association with Pussy Riot saw Putin warn local authorities "that they are stupid to cooperate with people like me". Together Masha and Sasha recruited a seasoned team of performers, including electro-punk musicians Asian Women on the Telephone, actor Kyril Kanstansinau and esteemed theatre director Yury Muravitsky, and evaded travel bans to take their show on the road.  

At a time when brands employ feminist slogans to whip up re-tweets, sometimes it seems as if the media coverage of the violent treatment of Pussy Riot activists by Russian law enforcement is more voyeuristic than it is supportive. For Masha, this is irrelevant. "The attention from the West, about Pussy Riot, about any activists in Russia, it’s protection," she urges. "A lot of people disappear, or have been tortured and killed. This protection is really, really helpful for all of us. All of us who are making protest actions, rallies, demonstrations – this is how patriotism should look."

Pussy Riot’s long-term objectives are these: political freedom, the release of political prisoners, no fabricated criminal punishments, no illegal arrests at rallies. What does small-scale success look like? "I don’t believe in success," Masha laughs. Then she concedes: "At least we have a sense of humour, especially about ourselves. This is what I hope we will not lose."

Next showing ...

PUSSY RIOT: RIOT DAYS
20:00, Wed 27 Feb 2019
RCC Fringe, Adelaide