Balaclavas Unite! Free Pussy Riot Demonstrations Around the World

Three alleged members of a Russian feminist punk collective are in jail—but their art has gone global.
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Update (Thursday July 26 1:30 PM PST): The Pussy Riot trial officially begins July 30 and will run until August 15. In the meantime, the Free Pussy Riot movement has been snowballing with momentum. Today, 1,500 protesters gathered in Moscow to call for the release of anti-Putin activists along with Pussy Riot, and on Friday, Amnesty International USA will hold a rally outside the Russian embassy in Washington DC. Earlier this month, the prisoners initiated a short-lived hunger strike, which was taken up by 10 supporters and friends in Moscow. One protester is still striking—she's on day 21. Elsewhere, musical icons have lent their support: In anticipation of his St. Petersburg show tomorrow, Sting put out a press release today deploring the Russian government's treatment of the Pussy Riot prisoners, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers performed a show in Moscow wearing Pussy Riot t-shirts. Pussy Riot's lawyer, Mark Feigin, told the Moscow Times this week that Anthony Kiedis is talking to Bono and Madonna to enlist their help as well. 


On February 21, members of the Russian riot grrrl art collective Pussy Riot walked into Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral and staged a performance art protest. The women got up on the altar wearing their signature rainbow array of balaclavas (ski masks) and held what they called a "punk prayer service," kicking and dancing their way through an explicit, anti-Putin jam. Later, alleged members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich were arrested and detained for the action. In April, a Moscow court extended the women's jail time until June 24. On June 20, that detention was extended a second time, for another month. The women, two of whom have young children, face up to seven years in prison on charges of hooliganism.

Their detention has sparked a network of creative grassroots actions, gallery shows, and music benefits across the globe. Solidarity demonstrations have cropped up everywhere from the Eiffel Tower to outside the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv. Freepussyriot.org, the website started 16 weeks ago as a forum to support the women, now has coordinators in at least six countries and receives submissions from Prague, Dresden, Mexico City, San Francisco, and Helsinki. Last week, a formal Pussy Riot exhibition launched at Palais de Tokyo, a contemporary art museum in Paris.

Permanent Wave, an American feminist art network, has been throwing benefit shows for Pussy Riot's legal defense fund in Brooklyn. At the first event, held June 12, a number of punk bands and the Beastie Boys' Adam Horowitz (Ad-Rock) played to a packed crowd. Some dancers donned balaclavas that were being sold at the merch table. According to Kaitlin Archambault, one of the organizers, most attendees kicked in more than the $7 suggested donation. That night alone, Permanent Wave raised $1,268 for the jailed trio.

"Crackdown on individual freedom of expression is of incredible concern," said Amy Klein, a punk musician, writer, and founder of Permanent Wave, before the collective's second Pussy Riot event. "The arts have always served the purpose of shining a light on and critiquing dominant ways of thinking, and if we can't have that be true all over the world, then it's sort of—what's the point in having artists anyway?"

Many share the sentiment; check out some of Pussy Riot's supporters' most colorful efforts above.