Jailed Russian Punk Rock Collective Pussy Riot Lands Exhibition at Paris's Palais de Tokyo

Jailed Russian Punk Rock Collective Pussy Riot Lands Exhibition at Paris's Palais de Tokyo
Detail of "The Pussy Riot March" by Victoria Lomasko (2012)
(Courtesy the Artist)

PARIS — On June 21, Paris's Palais de Tokyo will launch its new series "Alerte" ("Alarm"), with a show titled "The Case of the Pussy Riot Artists," organized by Russian curator Andrei Erofeev. The exhibition will include two comic strips, a documentary film, and a video of a Pussy Riot performance. The series seeks to highlight "hot topic in the news," and the all-female punk collective is certainly in a heated situation at the moment, with three of its members — Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina, and Ekaterina Samutsevich — currently jailed in Russia on charges of hooliganism and blasphemy after a controversial performance in March.

Known for their unauthorized punk performances, colorful costumes, and neon ski masks, the group, which branched off from the Russian art collective Voina, performed a song called "Holy Shit" in March on the altar of Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The song's lyrics asked the Virgin Mary to become a feminist and to kick Vladimir Putin out of Russia. In addition to the president, another target of the performance was Kirill I, patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, who has been a staunch supporter of Putin and has recently had to defend himself from critics denouncing his lavish lifestyle.

 

The case of Pussy Riot has attracted international attention. On the Web site Free Pussy Riot!, a lawyer representing the three women has sent a letter of complaint to the European Court of Human Rights, and Amnesty International has recognized them as prisoners of conscience. Erofeev told ARTINFO France that he expects the three to be tried in August, when most Russians are on vacation, and to be found guilty. He thinks it likely that they will be sentenced to two years in prison. "Their performance is considered by a minority of the population as a diabolical attack on patriotic values by foreign contemporary art, in an atmosphere of anti-foreign and anti-modern hysteria," he said.

Erofeev is no stranger to controversy and arrest himself: he was convicted of inciting religious hatred for organizing a 2006 exhibition of provocative artworks that had been banned from other institutions. He avoided prison time but was fined about $5,000 in 2010. Erofeev described Pussy Riot's case to ARTINFO France as an exceptional situation: no Russian artist has been imprisoned since Leonid Lamm was charged with producing pornography in 1984, under Brezhnev. "It's interesting to see what the principle is, why officials are afraid of artworks," Erofeev said. "Laughter and culture-jamming is what scares them."

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