Freed Pussy Riot Member Yekaterina Samutsevich: 'Art Must Be Political'

A new interview with the convicted but recently released "hooligan"

RTR2WK7G-615.jpgMembers of the Russian radical feminist group 'Pussy Riot' sing a song in Red Square in Moscow. (Denis Sinyakov/Reuters)

A Moscow court this week suspended the two-year jail term of one of the three Pussy Riot defendants. The three members of the punk performance-art collective had been convicted of "hooliganism" motivated by religious hatred for a February performance of a song critical of President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral. Shortly after her release from custody on October 10, I spoke with Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich.


What did you make of the reaction to your arrest and trial?
 
Unfortunately, far from all the reactions reached me -- a quite limited amount of information reached us in pretrial detention. So I couldn't see the entire reaction that there was. But we saw -- there was a television -- the reaction of the heads of the country. It is pretty hard to comment on it -- it seemed to me really inappropriate. There was one reaction, I remember, who put forward some sort of strange conspiracy theory about the state against the church. This seemed very strange to me and unconvincing. Personally, I divide the reactions into two categories: ideological support and the support of those who didn't support us ideologically, but for humanitarian reasons. That is, people were saying "we are against what you did, but we support you because you are girls." Some said it was because we are pretty or because we have children. To be honest, I didn't much like this kind of reaction either. Of course, it is nice when a person supports you personally, but it is sort of strange when they support you just because they like the way you look or because you have children or because they pity our parents. We didn't like that.
 
In your case, people were sorry because you are the only child of an elderly father.

Yes, yes. That is just the same and I also didn't like it because in principle we are adults and we have our political views. We were jailed for those views. The fact that we have children or an elderly father or other family circumstances -- this is also very important, but it doesn't have anything to do with our political views, for which, essentially, we were jailed. So we didn't like this kind of reaction either. Unfortunately, in Russia there wasn't very much ideological support, even among artists. We expected more support. I don't know how to explain it -- maybe it is because of a dependence on state institutions. I don't know what the explanation is. But, to be honest, I was surprised by the passive reaction of the art community to our arrest because, after all, it is no secret that we are artists, albeit political artists; we are artists and, in principle, this action was a work of contemporary art, a type of political gesture. We believe that art must be political, must address the problems of the country, social issues, and that's essentially what our work was about.
 
We interviewed your father who told us that he supports your views concerning the interconnection between church and state, but that he doesn't agree with your feminism. Do you argue about this?

My father supports conservative views -- maybe it was his upbringing, the fact that he lived in the Soviet Union when he was young and in school. In the Soviet Union, traditional views of family values, conservative values were propagandized. But families can be of different types -- it doesn't automatically have to be the type that is being propagandized now in our country. It doesn't have to be a man and a woman and one or two children. There are common-law families, there are single-sex marriages, there are all sorts of things in the world. But my father doesn't understand this very well simply because he has never encountered it. He has different views from me, conservative views. I, of course, have different views on all this and, in this regard, we disagree. But there is nothing wrong with that. He has the right to have his own views, and we don't have any serious conflicts about this. We discuss them, but we aren't in conflict.
 
I saw you in 2011 at a gay parade together with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. Why was that important for you?
 
The LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] community is one of the most discriminated-against social groups. So-called sexual minorities are really rights minorities. Of course, we support them and are upset that gay pride events are banned in Russia. Of course, this is a sign of the homophobic policies of our country, our government. And at the same time all sorts of negative stereotypes are perpetuated; we see the constant stigmatization of people of nonstandard social orientation. And, naturally, we believe people have the right to free choice whether it be sexual, gender-orientation, or political choice. This is a political matter -- it is not just some sort of personal caprice if a person wants to live with a person of the same sex. It is politics because it is a matter of the right to status, official status. It is about how people will treat such people, and how they will arrange their lives within society. If a man openly acknowledges that he is gay -- or, it is even more true for trans-gender people -- he will have very many problems in life, his social relations will be defined by it. So, naturally, we support the LGBT community, we support the gay pride movement and we regret that the authorities will not permit gay pride events here in Moscow.
 
Your father also told us that you had a very normal, traditional upbringing, that you did very well in school, and worked as a computer programmer. How did you become a political performance artist?
 
It is a gradual process. You are thinking all the time about society, about what is going on. You read books. You educate yourself. You pay attention to what is going on around you. And you begin to understand that something isn't right. That something is going on in society, that the government's policies are very strange. You see that television is openly turning people into zombies, openly provides disinformation about what is going on in the world. You can see that the news shows are just making things up, that what they say has no connection with reality. And if you see all this, you understand that something is wrong and you begin thinking actively. Of course, this takes a long time. And at some point I decided to change my life -- I quit my job and took up modern art. It is well-known that modern art contains considerable critical potential, potential for critical thinking. The main principle of the contemporary artist is to relate critically to everything. So, naturally, this is an attractive feature of modern art. 
 
Your father said you had an Orthodox upbringing. Are you a believer?
 
No, what he meant is that at home we have a lot of icons, old icons, and I naturally treat them with respect as works of art, as works of Orthodox art. Naturally, I respect Orthodox culture and I understand it, naturally. I have never had any sort of negative views of Orthodox culture. Probably, that's what he had in mind.
 
Pussy Riot always tried to remain anonymous, but your trial has brought you quite a bit of notoriety. How has this changed things?
 
Yes, unfortunately, the criminal case exposed our faces -- the faces of the three defendants from the group. But that happened against our will and, naturally, now we are recognized. This is the new situation and we are just going to have to work with it. But there are other members of the group and they remain anonymous.



This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Presented by

Things Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman

You don't have to tell her how big she is. You don't need to touch her belly.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Things Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman

You don't have to tell her how big she is. You don't need to touch her belly.

Video

Maine's Underground Street Art

"Graffiti is the farthest thing from anarchy."

Video

The Joy of Running in a Beautiful Place

A love letter to California's Marin Headlands

Video

'I Didn't Even Know What I Was Going Through'

A 17-year-old describes his struggles with depression.

Video

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Video

The Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

More in Global

Just In