Pussy Riot singer in T.O. for Luminato
Maria Alyokhina performs in Burning Doors by Mackenzie Patterson
It’s been more than four years since Maria Alyokhina of the Russian punk art collective Pussy Riot was released from prison, where she spent two years, and it seems the artist and activist has only grown stronger and more resilient from the experience.
In 2012, the anti-Putinist rock band made waves when members Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova performed the song “Punk Prayer” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and were later arrested and charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”
Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were released from prison on an amnesty law in December 2013 and since then, have made it their mission to campaign for other political prisoners and persecuted artists around the world.
Now, in 2018, Alyokhina has joined forces with Belarus Free Theatre to produce — a play showcasing the brutal conditions political prisoners face and the censorship of artists in non-democratic societies. The play draws on the real experiences of Alyokhina, Russian performance artist Petr Pavlensky and Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who was sentenced to 20 years in a Russian prison in 2015 and is currently on a hunger strike.
Alyokhina, who is living in Moscow, says her story of persecution, injustice and resistance is just one of thousands of others across the globe.
“It’s a story of resistance and mine is just one of them,” she says. “The main one is the story of Oleg, who is Ukrainian, who is now in prison and is now on a hunger strike.That’s one of the reasons why we are doing this show. To tell the stories, to campaign for freedom for Oleg.”
For Alyokhina, art is just one of the vehicles she and other protestors use to resist political injustices. She’s open to all forms of activism and has spent most of her life fighting for freedom of speech, LGBT rights, feminism and environmentalism.
Despite the work Alyokhina and many others have been doing to raise awareness and fight oppression, the artist says nothing has changed and that her time in prison only opened her eyes more to the desperate need for freedom in the world.
“No, it’s not getting better. It’s getting worse unfortunately,” she says. “It was just an experience, and for me, it was a very important experience. I learned a lot about freedom there because this is a space where everything is taken away, so you learn how to resist there.”
Natalia Kaliada, co-founder and artistic director of Belarus Free Theatre, created the underground theatre with her husband, Nikolai Khalezin, in 2005 because the Belarus government had censored other forms of expression.
“By that point, we had tried everything else. My husband was editorin-chief for three major independent newspapers in Belarus, and all of them had been closed down,” she says. “We knew that it would go underground. I personally think that art equals humanity, and when we do art and contemporary theatre, it is the only way for us to stay human.”
Kaliada says the theatre’s productions put a spotlight on the experiences of persecuted artists like Alyokhina and Sentsov.
“Living under dictatorship, we have very high sensitivity to any form of control, and we really want to share that experience with our audience in different parts of the world,” she says.
Maria Alyokhina (right) in the explosive play, ‘Burning Doors’