New Book "Pussy Riot! A Punk Prayer for Freedom" is a Tragic Read

Pussy Riot book coverPussy Riot! A Punk Prayer For Freedom is a collection of courtroom statements, letters, journal entries, songs, poems and tributes from artists and musicians collected from and during the guerrilla performance group's internationally infamous trial last year. The book is relatively short (150 pages) yet speaks volumes on issues of government corruption, human rights, punk, art and feminism and is an intimate look at the trial and band members' experiences.

The book is a tragic read, but a profound historical document. Together, the documents reveal a corrupt trial and a media that cares less about the message of the women's protest but the place and manner in which they chose to protest.

The Feminist Press released Pussy Riot! A Punk Prayer For Freedom as an e-book (not to be confused with new documentary Pussy Riot - A Punk Prayer) one month after last August's guilty verdict to raise money for the band's legal defense and to provide "a historical document as well as a call to action." The book was released in February of this year in a print edition,  on the one year anniversary of the month when the group donned colorful balaclavas and performed a punk prayer, ("Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away") in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. In the prayer, the women urged Mary to become a feminist and fight off "the church's praise of rotten dictators."

Women are not allowed in the area of the church where Pussy Riot performed and bright colors are also not allowed for women, according to church rules. In the collected transcripts, witnesses from the cathedral recall the incident with terror and disbelief. One of the witnesses actually compares the performances to "a witch's ritual," and said the women should "join a convent" to pay for their sins. Others consider feminism obscene profanity. A bit of humor is found in these moments, as Pussy Riot member Nadya Tolokonnikova questions a witness:

Nadya: Do you find the word feminist insulting?

Witness: I do. For an Orthodox believer it is an insult, an obscenity.

Nadya: Do you know what the word feminist means?

Judge disallows the question.

An unusually corrupt and unfair trial is revealed during closing statements from the band's three defense attorneys. They note that the prosecutor ihad a television show where the witnesses of the trial appeared as guests. They tell the court that the three women were not allowed to speak privately with lawyers and the lawyers were not allowed to view court materials, even though their forged signatures suggest they had viewed the information. The band was told from the start that if they plead guilty, they would be let go. By pleading not guilty, they lost all rights to freedom and a fair trial, with no regard to constitutional rights.

In the band members' closing statements, the women poetically give their final words as those would be the last anyone will ever hear from these three women. The sense of doom these women are feeling during the trial is clearly felt as they provide examples in history when artists and philosophers—even Jesus, someone the court should admire—were persecuted for their beliefs. Does history only repeat itself? Apparently so.

In the book's final pages, tributes come in the form of songs, poems, letters and essays, some discussing the meaning behind the balaclavas Pussy Riot wears and others explaining the band's effectiveness at developing a more direct, powerful kind of protest music. JD Samson of Le Tigre effectively describes why the trial is so important to feminists all over the world, and why we are all Pussy Riot:

"This revolution is a window into the Russian political system. As feminists we are shocked to see that in Russia the word "feminism" is blasphemous. As Americans we may be shocked to see absolutely no separation of church and state. But we also know that's the reality in the US as well. So we must stand up, because this is not only a window into Russia, but a window into our own government and our own fight for personal freedoms."

Amen to that.

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Pussy Riot! A Punk Prayer

A great book and an intelligent review. Camille Paglias`s new book `Glittering Images` could easily have concluded with Pussy Riot art but was published too early. It was Zizek in his `The True Blasphemy` that got to sing their praises and totally contradict Putin , Patriarch Kirill and the Kremlin. Pussy Riot are the finest artists in Russia since the Suprematists and the Oberiu Poets- it says so on my wesite Gothic Moon Records ! - 21st century situationist detournement by feminist artists !