Monday, February 11, 2019
Broad Stage, Santa Monica, CA
For whom or what would you risk your life? People often say they would risk their lives for their loved ones, but how many of us put our lives on the line, on a daily basis, to stand up for equality, human rights, and justice for people we’ve never met? I wasn’t thinking about this during Pussy Riot‘s appearance and performance at The Broad Stage Monday night, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.
Founding member, Nadya Tolokonnikova, and Pussy Riot were among the activists who participated in the Broad Stage series Artists Talk: Artists, Activism, and Agency. The evening began with a discussion and Q&A about art, Punk, culture, and language as vehicles to instigate change. The panel included Shepard Fairey, Catherine Opie, Tavares Strachan, and Tolokonnikova.
Throughout the conversation, Tolokonnikova reinforced the importance of moving beyond conversation and the need to take bold action. “I was so pissed at all those people just talking. Sometimes talking can be useful but, for me, it was just too much. You’re not doing enough.”
In regard to Putin serving multiple terms as President of Russia, and her desire to incite change, Tolokonnikova remarked, “I have to put all my energy and all my time into trying to do something with it. I realized at the time I would never succeed in doing it, but I would never forgive myself. . . I’m going to try. . . That, for me, is justice. . . Fuck abstract ideas.”
Though the issues Tolokonnikova and Pussy Riot take a stand for may seem insurmountable, their efforts have illuminated injustices and prompted positive change. In 2013, during her prison sentence, Tolokonnikova went on a hunger strike and reported on the inhumane treatment of women in prison, including the use of women prisoners for slave labor. She remained vocal about the injustices throughout and after her prison term. Late last year, Russian officials announced that the head of the prison colony and several other officials had been dismissed after an inspection revealed female convicts were being tortured and forced to work under slave-labor conditions.
“Apparently, Tolokonnikova was correct,” FSIN Deputy Director Valery Maksimenko told TASS on December 24.
Though it took several years, Tolokonnikova is pleased with the outcome. “That is a big move because the next head of prison will be scared of using slave labor, probably, because he doesn’t want to be in jail as well. . . So just believe in yourself and some time – not necessarily tomorrow or the day after tomorrow or in two years, maybe sometime in 10 years – you will see the results.”
Tolokonnikova spoke about how Pussy Riot utilized Punk Rock to incite change in Russia by playing concerts outside, in public spaces, including Red Square. “It was a quite dangerous act . . . For Russia, in 2011, to play in a venue is not impactful enough. Maybe it used to be back in the days. But it wasn’t that impactful… When you’re Punk, you shouldn’t just think about the aesthetics, you should think about the impact you can have on social and political life.”
Following the discussion, Tolokonnikova and fellow Pussy Riot members performed new songs and teased a future release. The performance was powerful. There were striking and disturbing images on screen juxtaposed with nursery-rhyme melodies; hard-hitting lyrics and beats, followed by blood curdling screams. Tolokonnikova took it further, directly confronting the audience with her words and ideas, by taking a power stance and locking eyes with the crowd as she sang.
Midway through their set, the music was further punctuated by a video which explained just how dangerous it is for Pussy Riot to make music. The video detailed a multitude of topics which, in Russia, are not legal to incorporate in music and art. They include themes we take for granted in the United States, protected by freedom of expression: alcohol, religion, non-traditional relationships, positive attitudes about sex, etc. Essentially, if Pussy Riot – and other musicians in Russia – abide by those laws, they cannot make their art. Simply writing songs could land Pussy Riot in prison again.
Yet, Pussy Riot continues to write and perform songs, to risk their safety and their lives, not only for art, but for humanity, justice, and equality. Should we all put our lives on the line for political and social change? Looking at the world today, the argument could be made that we should.
While I have been active and working to promote positive change in many ways, I cannot get Tolokonnikova’s words, “you’re not doing enough” echoing along with all that she and Pussy Riot have done and continue to do, out of my mind. What else will I do? I’ve been considering that since I saw Pussy Riot perform a week ago and I’m not entirely sure. However, I am starting by supporting Pussy Riot every way I’m able.