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Pussy Riot anti-surveillance make-up
Photography Santi Imkorpo Pagnotta

Learn how to create an anti-surveillance make-up look with Pussy Riot


TextAlex Peters

Pussy Riot want to take back control over our data and our faces

Surveillance technology and facial recognition algorithms are being increasingly used on and against us. The average Londoner, for example, is caught more than 300 times a day by cameras operated by public bodies, businesses, and individuals.

In June, as a response to the nationwide demonstrations protesting the death of George Floyd and systemic racism, the US government gave new powers to the country’s Drug Enforcement Administration, granting them authority to conduct covert surveillance and collect intelligence on those participating in the protests.

To fight back, many people have been turning to make-up which, when applied in block shapes and geometric patterns – think Juggalo make-up – has the potential to throw off many of the algorithms that detect human faces.

To help teach us all more about it, Pussy Riot have put out a new tutorial demonstrating techniques for how to create anti-surveillance make-up looks. “Every day we quite literally face myriads of facial recognition tools available to police departments and government agencies,” says founding member Nadya Tolokonnikova. “Giving too much power to the police or any security agency provides the conditions for authoritarian abuse.” 

In the tutorial, Tolokonnikova explains how to use contrasting shades and shapes to trick surveillance systems into thinking that we are not human. “You want to obscure the natural highlights and shadows on your face,” she says. “The most effective way to do this is via strong lines across the face, mouth and nose that divide up facial symmetry, preventing the facial recognition software from fitting the puzzle pieces of your face together into a coherent picture.” 

If you are going to do this, you’ll want to make sure you partially obscure the nose bridge area (where the nose, eyes, and forehead intersect) as this is a key facial feature, as is the position and darkness of eyes which you will also want to obscure.

Stay safe, everyone, and remember, if you think your actions may have repercussions for you or your activist community, Pussy Riot recommend “it's always a better idea to wear an old good balaclava.”

Pussy Riot have been busy this week, “celebrating” Vladimir Putin’s birthday by hanging  rainbow flags outside several government buildings and landmarks in protest of the country’s treatment of LGBTQ+ people. 

The group also published a list of demands directed at the Russian government and Putin, stating: “The state should not interfere in the lives of the LGBTQ community, but if it does, then the community can intervene in the life of the state.” Among the seven demands are the legalisation of same-sex partnerships, an investigation into the killings and kidnappings of queer people in Chechnya, and the ending of discriminatory legislation. They also propose making Putin’s birthday “LGBTQ visibility day”. Read more here and watch the make-up tutorial below.

Directed and edited by Nadya Tolokonnikova
Video and photography by Santi Imkorpo Pagnotta
Music by Nadya Tolokonnikova and GUPI
Outfits Pussy Riot's clothing line

Featuring: Maya B, recording artist
Melissa Brooks of The Aquadolls
Gannon co-owner of Subculture party
Nadya Tolokonnikova

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