Saturday, November 18th, 2017

May Day show at SPACE to support Russian punk band Pussy Riot

Posted on April 27, 2012 in Uncategorized
By Anna Flemke

Chelsea Ellis | The Free Press

Donning a colorful array of leggings, clothing and masks, the Russian anarchist punk band Pussy Riot takes the stage. Guitars and microphones in hand, the group dances wildly while chanting the words, “Virgin Mary, become feminist/ Virgin Mary, drive Putin away!”

Called a “Punk Prayer” by Pussy Riot, the song’s lyrics sound like most radical ballads — angsty and refusing to submit to a corrupt political system. In this case, however, the stage for such lyrics is not really a stage at all. Pussy Riot’s impromptu performance took place on Feb. 21 at the altar of Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, only days before controversial presidential elections in Russia.

Three alleged members of the band were arrested and charged with “hooliganism” for their church performance, a crime that can result in up to seven years of jail time in Russia. The detainees are described as “alleged” members due to Pussy Riot’s anonymity. During each performance all band members wear balaclavas, or ski masks, to protect their identities.

Formed in October 2011, Pussy Riot uses their performances to demonstrate advocacy for gender equality, democracy and freedom of expression in music and art.

“I think the case [against the three women] is absurd, but at the same time we have to recognize that the consequences of their protest are very real,” said Jenny Santomauro, music director at WMPG — the Southern Maine community radio station. “I’m concerned about the safety and future of these women.”

Santomauro helped organize a benefit for Pussy Riot’s legal defense team, which will be taking place on May 1 at SPACE Gallery. Portland indie rock darlings Metal Feathers will share the stage with Correspondences, SWAATH and Dead Dog, a pop punk band from Athens, GA.

The Portland event will be the second of its kind in the United States — the first being a Pussy Riot solidarity protest that took place in San Francisco on April 27. Similar to other Pussy Riot benefits in Germany, England and Australia, the show at SPACE aims to show support for the band and their mission while maintaining the same care-free, colorful attitude exhibited by Pussy Riot.

As a symbol of solidarity with Pussy Riot, a montage of the group’s performances will be screened at SPACE before the show. Bowls of borscht, a traditional Ukrainian soup made from beets, will also be for sale. The soup is homemade by Betsy Upham, an incoming American and New England Studies graduate student at USM.

“I like being a supportive member of the creative community, in this case international, and I like to cook. A lot,” said Upham. “I often find the way I try to help others is through cooking for them.”

Rob Lieber, a USM Art Department adjunct professor, joined Santomauro in organizing the show and soup line at SPACE. An advocate of performance art and freedom of expression, Lieber posted an image supporting Pussy Riot on a Russian Facebook page in March. The next day, he received an email from the organizer of freepussyriot.org — an online resource for more information about the charges faced by the three women.

“For some reason, he could tell that I was a native English speaker, and he had asked if I could help with the website,” Lieber said “For the last month, I’ve essentially been the English Language Coordinator for the site.”

The website is open to the international community, with information available in five different languages. Leiber is in charge of updating the site in English, compiling information he receives from Russia and other online sources that address the case.

“We have performance artists that are potentially looking at seven years in jail. They’re 22, 23 years old, they’re moms, and I sort of have a weakness for artists who get themselves in trouble,” said Lieber.

The band members —Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samucevich — are currently being held in Russian prison until their final trial on June 24. Proceeds from the event at SPACE Gallery and other Pussy Riot benefits are donated to the Pussy Riot Legal Defense Fund, a source of financial support for three lawyers who volunteered to represent the three women.

“Even if these women get released, the lawyers are still going to need our help. The money we raise goes to covering the cost of the Pussy Riot case and future cases like it,” said Lieber.

The Pussy Riot benefit and soup line at SPACE Gallery purposefully take place on May Day, also known as International Worker’s Day. The unofficial holiday is meant to recognize the efforts and rights of working-class citizens around the globe.

Santomauro said that with various student-initiated civic actions like Occupy USM, student-led protests and the Take Back the Night events against sexual violence, there’s a “contingent of USM students that want to support peers challenging the establishment. Even if those peers are half way across the world.”