Pussy Riot singer in T.O. for Lu­mi­nato

Maria Alyokhina per­forms in Burn­ing Doors

Village Post - - Currents - 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 Burn­ing Doors — 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.

Burn­ing Doors, plays June 20 to 24 as part of the Lu­mi­nato Fes­ti­val.

Maria Alyokhina (right) in the ex­plo­sive play, ‘Burn­ing Doors’

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