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PUSSY RIOT

'No Riot No Pussy' – Pussy Riot On Their Newest Protest Action

We had a chat with Nadya Tolokonnikova about her series of projections aimed at world leaders.

by Patrick Heardman
28 June 2017, 3:02pm

Nadya Tolokonnikova. Photos: Pussy Riot / Chris Batte

You know who Pussy Riot are. But hey, just in case your memory is profoundly bad, let's go over the details. The Russian punk band and feminist-anarchists shot to fame in 2012 after performing their anti-Orthodox church number "Punk Prayer" in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. For the apparent crime of "hooliganism", members Maria Alyokhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova were arrested and sentenced to two years in prison.

After serving 21 months of their sentence the pair was released. Once they were out, Pussy Riot continued to rally against the oppressive Kremlin regime through various means, including a protest at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 and via their 2016 track "Straight Outta Vagina". Nadya's latest work, "No Riot No Pussy", is a series of projections of short messages addressed to world leaders.

I caught up with her over the phone earlier this week.

VICE: Hi Nadya. How did your latest work, "No Riot No Pussy", come about?
Nadya Tolokonnikova: Well, anarchists in Chicago approached me and asked if I wanted to work with them. They saw my previous projections in 2008, when we projected a pirate flag onto the Russian White House. As they wrote to me, it was like Chicago chose me.

What does No Riot No Pussy mean?
You can't have access to any pussy without being a radical.

Makes sense. So what do these latest projections tackle?
It's about all sorts of assholes, not just Trump – like Putin, Erdogan, oligarchs and elites. A lot of people were really upset about Trump when he was elected president. My American friends were really upset. But it's important not to forget that he's just one of the many people who want to protect their own power, wealth and privileges. Since the beginning of the 20th Century we've done a lot for people's rights, but we're going to lose it unless we fight back.

Why did you decide to project your messages onto buildings, as opposed to in a gallery or another venue?
The main idea of the projections is that the streets belong to us. With the privatising of public spaces, streets are owned by somebody; sometimes I can't even eat my sandwich on the pavement. [So the projections are] a basic gesture of reclaiming the streets for everybody. We're trying to be inclusive, not exclusive.

One projection reads Amor Fati, Latin for "love of fate". Why did you choose this phrase?
Amor Fati comes with a message of "you're dead". I'm telling these figures to enjoy how we will overthrow them. You know, like, "Relax and be ready to get out of your offices." I think it's a global disease – you know, people who tend to do whatever they want and grab people by the pussy. But I think it's really time for simple messages, because politics has gone back to the stone age.

How can it be brought back into the 21st century?
You need to organise in order to resist. That's pretty obvious these days, but I see some people still believing that somebody will come and save them. I feel that a lot of people in the United States viewed Sanders in this way. They saw him as another good man who came to save their asses. Instead of waiting and complaining that he's not that good, why don't people make their own political moves?

Would you say that happened to some extent in the recent UK election?
It's similar, but I'm happy for what's happened there. I've liked Corbyn for a while.

What are your feelings on how the left can progress?
I really want to see alternative versions of organisation, not the same ones which have obviously failed. The rise of populist movements all around are trying to convince people they can save them, but populists can never realise what people really need. I think we need an alternative left form of globalisation. Left movements all around the world obviously all support each other; when I see that Corbyn and Bernie Sanders exist in other countries it makes me happy.


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What about Putin?
Putin is not as powerful as lot of right-wing media portray him. In America he's everywhere; it's an ego boost, in fact. Yes he did try to influence elections – not just the American one, but in France, for example – but he doesn't have as much power as some American media are portraying him to have. Second thing is that he's not that popular in Russia.

Really? His approval ratings are incredibly high.
When I was in prison, I had a chance to speak to people from all possible backgrounds and social classes. Mostly, their attitude is slightly irritated by him and his corruption, but they don't feel that it's worth trying to change the situation right now. It's really unpredictable and he is not as stable as the media is portraying him. I believe in political changes. Putin failed on a lot of his promises. He promised stability, but he started a lot of wars, causing sanctions from the West. Our economy is in crisis. We don't have stability and people's lives are getting worse than before.

Where do we go from here?
When you take a look at what's happened with the protests in the streets of Russia, a lot of people joined us. A lot of people who are young, maybe at their first or second rally. People want to see an alternative version of our current political situation. Generally speaking we've seen a lack of political imagination since 1989, when the Berlin wall fell. We've lost imagination because there is one world order, and that is market fundamentalism, which is the reason we have Trump. Humans are the kinds of animals who do have imagination and they want to reclaim it. In the next ten years we will see a shift. We will make it left, we won't let it be right.

Thank you, Nadya.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

@PatrickBenjam