Back on February 21, Pussy Riot, a group of Russian artist-activists, staged a "punk prayer" to the Virgin Mary, dancing, singing, and chanting at the altar of Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral, in an effort to promote human rights in Russia, which are severely curtailed under the leadership of Vladimir Putin.
The protest immediately caused uproar in a country where church and state often overlap. Within a day a montage video of the event went viral online. In the span of a few weeks, three artists from the amorphous and anonymous group were singled out and arrested: Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Ekaterina Samucevich. All three women were charged with hooliganism and face a maximum up to seven years in prison. The trial has been moved three times and is now scheduled for June 24.
This isn't their first time causing trouble for Russian authorities. Part of a network of Russian artist-activists who using punk-rock aesthetics, Pussy Riot is also involved in a larger feminist movement developing in Eastern Europe, with similarities to the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement (as well as the 1980s US-based Guerrilla Girls). A previous Pussy Riot action had unmasked members approaching uniformed female officers in public transit stations and kissing them on the lips. (A similar group, Voina, is famed for flipping over unoccupied police cars.)
Shortly after the post-prayer arrests, Rob Lieber, a local artist and lecturer at Southern Maine Community College, expressed support for the group over the Internet. A few weeks later Lieber helped organize the American branch of the group's legal-defense fund and helped launch freepussyriot.org, the English-language site dedicated to covering the ever-changing situation in Moscow. To rally local support for the cause, Lieber has joined forces with SPACE Gallery to host an evening of borscht, local music, and solidarity.
The May Day event is kicking off with a borscht dinner in the SPACE Annex. From 5:30 to 7:30 pm, bowls of the Russian comfort food will be sold to hungry supporters. At 8 pm the benefit will move to SPACE's main room for a proper rock show. Portland's Metal Feathers are headlining, with the Correspondences, Swaath, and Dead Dog also on the bill. The evening's proceeds will go directly to the Pussy Riot Legal Defense Fund.
"BORSCHT & BALACLAVAS: A MAY DAY SOUP LINE" | benefiting Pussy Riot | 5:30 pm | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St, Portland | by donation | 207.828.5600 or space538.org | freepussyriot.org