The High Art And Crime Of Limb Jerking: Free Pussy Riot

“Without freedom, no art; art lives only on the restraints it imposes on itself, and dies of all others.”
– Albert Camus
“I thought the church loved its children … It turns out the church only loves those children who believe in Putin.”
– Maria Alekhina

 

Running within my veins is an international blend of blood cells owing their existence to a somewhat mixed and muddied heritage that is one part American, one part European and one part Russian. These days, my blood – and not just the Russian part –  is boiling, especially after witnessing the conviction of 3 young women, members of ‘Pussy Riot’, an anonymous Russian feminist performance art group/punk rock band.

A few days ago, Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, both young mothers, as well as Ekaterina Samucevich, were sentenced by a Russian court to two years each after being found guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”.

If you haven’t heard the story, here are the basics: In February of this year, the artists performed a ‘flash performance’ of their song titled, ‘Punk-Prayer: Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away’, at the altar of Moscow’s main cathedral. The stunt lasted approximately 30 seconds or so before the group were forced from the church.

Yes, the impromptu politically charged exhibition obviously rubbed many folks the wrong way – especially those it was aimed at, namely Russian President Vladimir Putin and church leader Patriarch Kirill, a staunch supporter of Putin’s re-election campaign; strange bedfellows given the supposedly formal separation of church and state.

Incredibly, the Russian court chose to dismiss the obvious political and personal aim of the song, as well as the artists’ actual testimony, and instead categorized their actions as essentially a ‘religious hate crime’ and act of ‘social disorder’. In this last categorization, the court referred to “devilish dances” and ‘limb jerking” (insert long pregnant pause here to collect your dropped jaws).

In truth, beyond the bogus nature of the court’s decision there are a number of other concerns regarding the girls’ treatment during their incarceration, as well as in regards to their initial arrest, to warrant many the world over to decry ‘human rights’ violations. Following a questionable arrest, the girls were held for approximately 6 months before they were railroaded through an 8-day court case in which the defense’s calls for witnesses and ability to make objections were dismissed. The trial was clearly indicative a Soviet era ‘Show Trial‘.

Yes, it could certainly be argued that the performance was offensive to some ‘believers’ cum ‘Bible Thumpers‘. I’m sure they’ll get over it though and ‘turn the other cheek’. After all, Jesus Christ was big on forgiveness, wasn’t he? It is inevitable that sometimes with passion there is no saving grace or sparing toes. Nevertheless, the way these young women have been treated by the Russian Judicial System is deplorable.

During sentencing, the judge suggested that the stunt “crudely undermined the social order”. Social order? Hmm, how do you define ‘social order’? Disagreeing with government, speaking out, singing a song and doing a dance is considered a threat to the ‘social order’ in Russia? Let’s see, was there any vandalism involved? NO. Was there any personal injury involved? NO. Was there an attempted coup d’état against the authorities? NO. Did these young women incite a riot? NO. Was there ANY violence to persons or damage to property? NO. I mean, really, was there any of the above? If anything, it’s the Russian government’s actions, if not Putin himself, that have created disorder by fueling this social and political debacle.

Ok, so what EXACTLY suggests ‘social disorder’? Apart from the aforementioned “devilish dances”, ‘limb jerking’ and politically charged lyrics, there is none. Yet, that’s how it always is with regards to free speech and the arts. History certainly reflects, for example, that as Rock N’ Roll and even Jazz music’s popularity grew, so did campaigns to censor the so-called ‘devil’s music’.

Apart from the fact that the investigation, arrests and subsequent trial were a sham, I think few would suggest that indeed some form of punishment should not be meted out by the courts … a fair punishment fitting the so-called ‘high’ crime, which by most reasonably civilized cultures would be considered a misdemeanor. Ok, so give them a slap on the wrist, fine them up the wazoo, order them to do community service and send them on their way – especially in lieu of the fact that these are first time offenders. In fact, the girls have already apologized for the offending the religious. Jesus, I’m sure, would be happy.

But NO. The Iron Curtain has returned; this time under Putin’s own designer label. As much as there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this travesty of justice is Putin’s revenge, it should be obvious to all that the excessive punishment reflects his own bruised massive ego. Some might argue that the girls got off ‘light’; they could have been sent to Siberia and crucified.

The late US President, John F. Kennedy, once remarked the following: “If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.” What’s ironic is that the court’s grievous reaction to the group’s artistic expression, in ‘normal circumstances’, might be construed as an authoritarian government clamping down on political dissent, not wanting its society ‘nourished’ on steady stream of non-conformist ideology. Yet, these are NOT normal circumstances. This is not mere censorship of artistic or political expression. THIS is obviously PERSONAL. The KING has been insulted and has therefore decreed ‘off with their heads’!

Oh, the King’s folly; he has revealed himself to be nothing more than a naked imbecile who will soon bring down his rule, if not his country, by virtue of his own vanity.

It should go without saying that freedom of artistic expression is linked with freedom of speech, a tenet of modern democracies. It means nothing for a country to hang a shingle at its border claiming it to be an open democracy, when it silences it critics. Make no mistake, Putin’s actions in this and other matters suggests he is nothing more than a new ‘Tsar’.

It’s human nature to crave liberty, freedom of speech and at times rebellion. In this respect, our forms of art are nothing short than our expressing our zeal to break with conformity and challenge suppression. If freedom of speech is revered, then so must be art at both the individual and societal level. The lack of both is indicative of nothing less than a fascist regime yearning to lobotomize the minds of it’s youth, and in general break the will and hearts of those it obviously treats as nothing more than its sheep.

Society suffers when creative, artistic and political expression are shackled. When this occurs, all forms of expression are eventually suppressed. These appalling circumstances should be an affront to every artist and free thinking individual … you, me, everybody.

In her closing statements, Maria Alekhina poignantly expressed the following:

Because all you can deprive me of is “so-called” freedom. This is the only kind that exists in Russia. But nobody can take away my inner freedom. It lives in the word, it will go on living thanks to openness [glasnost], when this will be read and heard by thousands of people. This freedom goes on living with every person who is not indifferent, who hears us in this country. With everyone who found shards of the trial in themselves, like in previous times they found them in Franz Kafka and Guy Debord. I believe that I have honesty and openness, I thirst for the truth; and these things will make all of us just a little bit more free. We will see this yet.*

These, as well as those expressed by her co-defendants (see link below) are not just the mere words of an an artist, punk rocker or even feminist, but of a freedom fighter and hero. For me, there is no questioning these women’s political motives or artistic integrity.

In the end, I hope history will show that it was a group of brave female artists that slew the mighty Putin … with nothing more than a song.

 FREE PUSSY RIOT! SOLIDARITY!

————————————–

PS. In 1977, the Sex Pistols released ‘God Save The Queen’ during ‘her majesty’s Jubilee celebration’. The British government did not react by arresting them for ‘defaming the monarchy’. I mean, the British government might plot to storm a foreign embassy in a blatant act of brown-nosing to American interests but not … uh … well but that’s another story (See: Julian Assange & WikiLeaks).

 * Source: http://nplusonemag.com/pussy-riot-closing-statements

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Required Reading:

Pussy Riot Trial Facts:

Pussy Riot Closing Statements:

Art and revolution

Pussy Riot Sentencing a ‘Bitter Blow’ to Freedom in Russia

Pussy Riot and Russia’s surreal ‘justice’:

The alarming spread of fascism in Putin’s Russia

Art in Russia: Under Attack

Pussy Riot punk trio found guilty of hooliganism by Russian court

Laurie Penny: There’s no democracy – Putin is the Tsar of Russia now

Artistic Freedom In The United States:

Wikipedia: Pussy Riot

Meeting Pussy Riot

 Pussy Riot Live Journal

Pussy Riot: Their Trial in Pictures (Rolling Stone)

 

Take Action To Free Pussy Riot:

Amnesty International:

 Free Pussy Riot ORG

 

Suggested Reading

The Trial Society of the Spectacle Putin's Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy Censoring Culture: Contemporary Threats to Free Expression

Suggested Listening

 Pussy RiotPutin Lights Up the Fires

Pussy Riot Music on Last.Fmhttp://www.last.fm/music/Pussy+Riot

5 thoughts on “The High Art And Crime Of Limb Jerking: Free Pussy Riot

  1. […] But to me, freedom, you see, has less to do with sustaining an establishment, and more to do with fostering creativity. Freedom of expression should be a basic right. We shouldn’t need a bank of supreme court of justices or a committee of censors to define it for us … and certainly not law enforcement officials to stifle it. The same goes with expression in all art forms, even those which may be political (nudge nudge: think Pussy Riot). […]

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