Petr Pavlensky v Vladimir Putin

We talk to the Russian artist who sewed up his mouth in protest against the Pussy Riot's Imprisonment

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Since Pussy Riot were arrested back in March, more than 100 Russian cultural figureheads have signed an open letter calling for their release, while over 12,000 (and counting) participants have supported Amnesty’s text campaign. But this week was all about Petr Pavlensky, who on Monday sewed up his own mouth in protest of the women’s severe treatment at the hands of the Russian justice system. Standing solemnly in front of St. Petersburg’s Kazan Cathedral, the 28-year old Russian performance artist held up a banner reading ‘Pussy Riot act is a replay of a famous act by Jesus Christ’.

Sewing up my mouth, I showed the situation of the contemporary artist in Russia, living in an environment where there's a ban on publicity, the tightening of censorship and suppression of public statements in contemporary art

Accused of "hooliganism on the grounds of religious hatred" for their anti-Putin guerrilla gig in a Moscow Cathedral, this latest display of solidarity with the feminist punk band comes just three days after the women were told they would remain in pre-trial custody for the next six months. Since forming in 2011, Pussy Riot have told media outlets that at the top of their agenda is the unjust political process, restraints on freedom of expression, and the handling of criminal cases of opposition activists. Their trial begins on the 30th of this month.

The powerful image of Pavlensky’s forcefully shut mouth not only draws attention to the Pussy Riot case, but speaks volumes about the perception of democracy in Russia. Intrigued by the little known artist, Dazed decided to track him down…

Dazed Digital: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Petr Pavlensky: I’m an artist practicing contemporary art, educated at the Industrial Academy and Institute of PROARTE. I participated in the III Moscow International Biennale for Young Art and have a number of works in the collection of State Museum of Political History of Russia. In projects, I try to reveal the hidden contradictions surrounding my system and submit their true form, pushing each other, thereby providing a disarming effect.

DD: What did you want to say by sewing up your mouth?
Petr Pavlensky:
Sewing up my mouth, I showed the situation of the contemporary artist in Russia, living in an environment where there's a ban on publicity, the tightening of censorship and suppression of public statements in contemporary art. The whole story around Pussy Riot is a demonstrative example of this, carrying out the ritual punishment of young girls. This process is entirely demonstration in character, aiming to intimidate and keep society at bay.

DD: Can you describe what young people think of Russia’s political situation
Petr Pavlensky: Young people are dominated by a desire to protest and somehow change the situation, but the fear for themselves and their families is stronger.

DD: We read you were taken to hospital. What was the reaction of the authorities like?
Petr Pavlensky: The police didn’t know what to do with me. I didn’t answer their questions and didn’t respond to their demands to produce documents. They called an ambulance. And took me to the psychiatric examination (psychiatrists recognised me sane). In terms of the people, they expressed support, as [I was fighting] a problem that concerns many in Russia.

Read our initial piece on the Pussy Riot's imprisonment for protesting against Putin HERE. Get involved with Amnesty's text campaign HERE. See some of Pavensky's work HERE

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