Velvet Terrorism: Pussy Riot’s Russia
From the action Careful, Fragile, 2020. Photo: Pussy Riot.

Velvet Terrorism: Pussy Riot’s Russia

The Polygon Gallery, North Vancouver, BC - To June 2

by Michael Turner

Formed in 2011, Russia’s Pussy Riot is a household name in much of the media-eating world, and is arguably today’s best-known punk band. Like England’s Sex Pistols 45 years before them, Pussy Riot is more than a band; they are an idea, an aesthetic, a politic and a practice. Music provides the means to be heard, and what this collective has to say includes what is written on their bodies with Cossacks’ whips: Putin’s Russia is a repressive, expansionist, authoritarian state.

Taking its title from Putin spiritual advisor Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov’s denouncement of the band after its arrest and imprisonment for a 2012 guerrilla performance at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (“This is a new reality of our life: ‘velvet terrorism’ ”), this exhibition, created by group member Maria (Masha) Alyokhina and curated with artists Ragnar Kjartansson and Ingibjörg Sigurjónsdóttir, features documentation of Pussy Riot’s non-violent performances and street activism, what amounts to over 50 actions, some of which include those whip-wielding Cossacks.

Though much of Velvet Terrorism is built on harrowing video footage, featuring clashes with authorities, some of its quieter moments are contained in more intimate forms, such as handwritten song lyrics, testimonials, reflections and photos. As one experiences the exhibition, these quieter moments provide a respite, allowing both a return to its front lines and recognition that, like the historical materialism upon which the former Soviet Union was founded, the show carries within it its own dialectic.

Velvet Terrorism was organized and toured by the artist-run space Kling & Bang, Reykjavik. It appears as part of the 2024 Capture Photography Festival Selected Exhibitions Program.

thepolygon.ca

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