Thursday 21 November 2019

Nataliya Vasilyeva: Punk provocateurs put ideas before personalities

Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow

ONE of the key ideas behind the Russian punk provocateur band Pussy Riot was the supremacy of an idea over personality -- thus the balaclavas that made the members both unrecognisable and fearsome.

But the three members awaiting a verdict today on charges of hooliganism are very different from one another.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is a daring performance artist with Angelina Jolie lips and a notorious part in a filmed orgy just days before she gave birth.

Maria Alyokhina is a poet and environmentalist whose pre-Raphaelite looks project sweetness and sensitivity.

Rounding out the trio is Yekaterina Samutsevich, a quietly cerebral computer expert who has applied her skills to nuclear submarines and experimental art.

If convicted they could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison. The trial has attracted worldwide attention as an emblem of Russia's intolerance of dissent.

They came together several years ago in a confrontational art group called Voina (War), which attracted notice with risque stunts. The group painted a 65-metre penis on a St Petersburg drawbridge, and in 2008 staged an orgy in a Moscow museum as a mocking commentary on Dmitry Medvedev's imminent election as Russian president.

The three also took part in a less-publicised punk performance in 2009 at the trial against a prominent art curator in a Moscow court, singing: "All cops are scum."

Voina's chief ideologist Alexei Plutser-Sarno said that the three "performed courageously" with the art group.

Ms Tolokonnikova (23), who was heavily pregnant when she appeared in the museum orgy, has become the main face of Pussy Riot.

"Since childhood I've loved finding myself in extreme situations. I've always lacked unusual things in my life," she said.

Ms Alyokhina, mother of a five-year-old boy, has a long background in charity work and environmental activism.

Her friend and fellow charity worker Olga Vinogradova describes her as "a born activist". They both frequented a Moscow psychiatric hospital for teenagers, giving classes and helping the patients.

Samutsevich (30) studied computers at Moscow Energy University and soon got a good job at a top-secret research centre designing software programmes for Russia's top nuclear submarine Nerpa, her father Stanislav said.

Ms Samutsevich's father said that he does not share some of his daughter's views on art and politics but "feels proud about how firm and prepared she is to face the punishment rather than betray her beliefs".

"I have mixed feelings about this trial," Ms Samutsevich herself told the court in her final argument. "On the one hand, we're expecting a guilty verdict. But on the other, we have won because the criminal case against us has been rigged, and the government machine cannot hide the fact that this trial is repressive."

Irish Independent

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