Pussy Riot’s Masha Talks Protests, Prisoners and Mediazona

Pussy Riot’s Masha Talks Protests, Prisoners and Mediazona

Performance Artist Talks About Her Upcoming Santa Fe Event

By Melissa Wood

Masha   Pussy Riot was a little under a year old when it gained international attention. Forming in mid-2011, The feminist punk rock protest group rose to fame during the 2012 re-election of Vladimir Putin in Russia. The group speaks out about LGBT rights in Russia, feminism and the right to political and religious freedoms. The group regularly staged guerilla performances to film music videos that were critical of Putin and his supporters.

One of these videos, staged inside the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, led to the imprisonment of members Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina. The incident drew international attention, particularly from the West, and they were granted amnesty 21 months into their sentence.

Seductions

In Russia, the sentences for acts such as these could be decades. Since their imprisonment, laws surrounding political dissent have become harsher.

Bringing attention to this is the focus of Masha’s independent media project, Mediazona, in which she, with the help of a legal team, takes on cases of other political prisoners.

ABQ Free Press Weekly spoke with Masha about some of these projects and what she and her partner at Mediazona, Sasha, will talk about at their upcoming discussion at Lensic Theater in Santa Fe.

   What should attendees at the Santa Fe event expect to see this week? 

Our event is about a project called Mediazona. (It’s a) Russian independent media (project) we started since we were released from prison.

We decided to put our prison experience toward this project, and the Mediazona covers all the topics about freedom in Russia: Its prisons, its police violence and its political courts, (of) which the number has been growing over the past two years.

We have been providing legal help to prisoners that are behind bars; we are going to speak about it to show the reality that we have here.

   You’ll be drawing on your personal experience, I’m sure.

We will be talking about that during the Q&A, but we want to focus on what is happening currently – especially cases we are currently covering.

The case of Oleg Sentsov, who is a Ukrainian filmmaker that got 20 years of prison because of his political position – in my opinion, he is a much more pure example of what can happen to people in Russia now. We got – we were quite lucky – we got two years, but this guy, he got 20 years, and this is a nightmare, so we are now campaigning for his freedom and I hope we will succeed with this.

He is from Crimea, and so all his guiltiness is just his public words about Crimea and about the political situation – actually war – which we have between Russia and Ukraine now. Russia refused a week ago to send him back to Ukraine, because according to Russia he is a Russian citizen because he was born in Crimea.

He is a really talented director, he could bring his films to any film festival, but now he is in the middle of nowhere Siberia, in total isolation. So this is case number one.

   How many cases have you handled?

We had handled about 30 cases; we won several of them. These are cases of political prisoners and also cases of usual prisoners that do not have medical treatments.

   What are your thoughts on American parallels that can be drawn?

I met Julian Assange, and I’m in contact with him and I know him. I have friends from United States who are working in this field. And of course, I understand in the U.S., that especially with police violence, there are lots of problems.

I think the main difference is that in the U.S., it is possible to speak about it and you have a chance to change it. In Russia, almost all the independent big media were shuttered down, and people who would speak about or were protesting against this order, some of them are in prison, some of them are killed; some have emigrated. We cannot compare situations, but basic freedoms, such as a choice – they are totally different in our countries.

   What has brought about the increased sentencing since your release?

Since I was released, Putin has started two wars in different countries. Since 2014 we’ve had a war with our closest country, with Ukraine. People are killing each other every day. Every day minimum three people are dying in the war. We have also been attacking Syria, so it’s a completely different situation than we had in 2012 when we started Pussy Riot.

   What about your current project, “Burning Doors?

Yes, it’s a theater project with an underground theater, the Belarus Free Theater, and I hope I will speak more about it during the Q&A. But it’s a play about resistance between artists and the torturers.

And actually, there are three heroes there – well, not heroes, but three stories. My story; the story of Petr Pavlensky, who is, in my opinion, the main contemporary artist in Russia now; and the third is the story of Oleg Sentsov.

We played in UK for two months at six theaters; in London we played for one month, and we played it in Italy and we are going to Australia also. Hopefully this spring we will bring it to the Ukraine.

Masha and her Mediazona partner Sasha are coming to Santa Fe on Nov. 13 to speak about this work and more. The event will be held at the historic Lensic theatre, in partnership with Meow Wolf.

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Dennis Domrzalski is news editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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