PUSSY RIOT!

November 2, 2013 · Print This Article

In the early pages of PUSSY RIOT!: A Punk Prayer for Freedom is a letter written from prison, by Masha, one of Pussy Riot’s founding members. In this letter, she describes the women in the prison with her, hungry, cold, one woman who miscarried because a police officer raped her whiPussyRiotle she was in custody. Masha writes, “She’s one of Pussy Riot too.” What strikes me about this is not the violence, because this kind of violence happens to women in the United States as well, but that Masha feels a kinship with her and calls this woman one of her own, Pussy Riot. I think in this letter, she is saying that all women are Pussy Riot.

Pussy Riot is a five-woman feminist performance punk band from Russia, who on February 21, 2012, stole into a section of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior reserved for priests, where they performed their work “Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away.” The account in Pussy Riot!: A Punk Prayer for Freedom, has the performance lasting forty seconds. For this, they were chased off, later arrested, brought to trial, and three of the members subsequently were convicted of “felony hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” For this forty-second performance, they received a two-year prison sentence. This event should frighten artists everywhere.

From the closing statement by defense attorney Violetta Volkova: “These women are recognized as political prisoners by international organizations such as Amnesty International, Memorial, and others. These women are not here now because they danced in church in the wrong clothes, in the wrong place, and prayed incorrectly, and made the sign of the cross the wrong way. They are here for their political beliefs. The words of the song, the words of the prayer that they performed—it is a political song, a political prayer addressed to the Blessed Virgin.”

PUSSY RIOT!: A Punk Prayer for Freedom collects letters from prison, court transcripts, and lyrics. With all the media attention that Pussy Riot received, this book is the first time I have heard the story from the members of Pussy Riot themselves. This event was much more political, focused, and transgressive, than even the alternative media made it seem. The slim book ends with artists’ “Tributes to Pussy Riot.” There is a poem from Karen Finaly and another from Eileen Myles, a response from Le Tigre’s JD Samson, and a surprisingly compelling essay by Bianca Jagger. But my favorite is a letter by Yoko Ono:

Dear Yetaterina Samutsevich [Katya],

   Thank you. You are right. You have won!

   You have won for all of us, the women of the world.

   The power of your every word is now growing in us.

   From here on, please take good care of yourself, as much as

you are allowed to.

   Each one of us is very much needed now.

   Let’s cleanse ourselves for the next battle, and heal the

world with the power of truth.

   War Is Over! (If You Want It.)

   In sisterhood,

Pussy Riot is just what we need right now. This little book from The Feminist Press is a compelling time capsule told exclusively from the perspective of the women themselves, and their artist supporters. I’m sure the future will provide us with an academic anthology retrospectively detailing the cultural, political, and activist implications of Pussy Riot. Thankfully, this is not that book.

14.95 paperback

 a very  reasonable 2.99 digital

The Feminist Press, 2013, 144 pages

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