‘In my art I’m trying to find truth about the world and critically reflect on the times in which I happen to live. I believe that art is a device to get to know the world better and challenge it to become better.’ Says Nadya Tolokonnikova, Russian activist and singer, member of punk group Pussy Riot. At the upcoming WDCD Mexico City festival on 6, 7 & 8 May, she will be sharing her vision on designing activism.
Nadya Tolokonnikova’s activism takes on many forms, from feminist punk performances, controversial street art, independent media to publication. ‘With activism and with protesting, you cannot just push a button and everything will change just in a second, unfortunately it doesn’t work like this,’ Tolokonnikova said to Now This.
Tolokonnikova knows how to force topics onto the political agenda. She became famous around the world after being arrested together with other Pussy Riot members for their performance denouncing the ties between church and government. She was arrested in 2012 for hooliganism and imprisoned in Russia for 2 years. ‘The words we spoke and our entire punk performance aimed to express our disapproval of a specific political event: the patriarchs’ support of Vladimir Putin, who has taken an authoritarian and anti-feminist course,’ Tolokonnikova explains.
The Russian activist studied philosophy at the Moscow State University and directs her energy to gain the public’s attention for important social issues. Member Pussy Riot, and previous member of Viola, Tolokonnikova partakes in provocative performances to voice strong political messages.
Risk and Reward
‘Resistance is not always a carnival; sometimes you’re poisoned, jailed, murdered,’ says Tolokonnikova, who suggests that activism doesn’t have to be a dull job. ‘Don’t treat political work as a boring duty; find a type of activism that fits your personality,’ she told PEN. ‘If you hate calling officials, but would rather write a protest song, why would you frustrate yourself calling officials? At the moments when I’m able to find a type of protest act that does not drain me, but on the contrary, fills me in with inspiration, I see how you can obtain even more energy from difficulties and beatings.’
Resistance is not always a carnival; sometimes you’re poisoned, jailed, murdered.’
Start a Revolution
After her release from prison in 2014 Tolokonnikova co-founded MediaZona, a free-of-censorship independent Russian media agency. They focus on the judicial, law enforcement and penal system in Russia. The agency, co-founded with Marija Alyokhina, works with Tolokonnikova’s advocacy group, Zona Prava (“Justice Zone”) for the protection of prisoners’ rights.
In 2016, Tolokonnikova published the autobiographical book How to Start a Revolution and in 2018 Rules for Rulebreakers: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism. The books are meant to inspire others to take action. ‘It’s a collection of my thoughts, contemplations, passions, and emotions that led me to action,’ she says.
Join WDCD Mexico City to hear more from Nadya Tolokonnikova on her activist experiences and what inspires her to take action. Buy your tickets here