Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova: ‘There is no such thing as reverse sexism – meninists can fuck off’

Sarah Silverman is onstage at the historic El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles, a bright white balaclava pulled unevenly over her head. It squashes her nose across her face, as if she’s doing an impression of a Picasso. “I put it on hastily,” jokes the comedian, but her introduction for the night’s headline act is as sincere as it gets. “They fight for you. They’ve done time. They’re true to their word. They’re not afraid of anyone,” Silverman proclaims. “They are Pussy Riot!”

With those words, 32-year-old musician and activist Nadya Tolokonnikova struts out into the limelight. She’s dressed in vintage lingerie, ripped fishnets and vertiginous knee-high pink boots. Over the next hour and a half, flanked by a pair of balaclava-clad backing dancers, she sings from the mosh pit, cracks a bullwhip and twerks with New Orleans bounce music legend Big Freedia. To begin, she asks simply: “Are you ready to riot?”

What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago, on 17 August 2012, Tolokonnikova was one of three members of the radical feminist performance art collective Pussy Riot sentenced to spend two years in a remote penal colony. Their crime had been to protest Vladimir Putin’s return to the Russian presidency by walking into Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and dancing around the altar to the strains of their “punk prayer”, a cacophonous song titled “Mother of God Drive Putin Away”.

The trial made headlines around the world, earning the trio the support of Madonna, Björk and Paul McCartney. But global attention did nothing to improve the conditions they were subjected to. In September 2013, Tolokonnikova was hospitalised after five days on a hunger strike in protest at human rights violations at the penal colony in Mordovia. The following year, shortly after her release, Tolokonnikova went to the Winter Olympics in Sochi to once again perform a Pussy Riot punk protest anthem: “Putin Will Teach You to Love the Motherland”. For their trouble, the group were attacked by Cossack militia and beaten with horsewhips.

Clearly, Tolokonnikova, who has continued to speak out against Putin ever since, is made of unbreakable stuff, but there’s a lighter side to her too. When we speak over video call shortly before the show at the El Rey, she’s relaxing at home with a lithe black cat named Ovchuk. With a laugh, she points out that Pussy Riot never intended to become known as a punk band. “We chose punk rock for the first songs just because we thought it was funny,” she says. “I’ve never played the guitar, and none of the core Pussy Riot members ever played any punk rock instruments. I like punk culture, and the punk ethos, but I don’t really listen to punk music that much.” For Tolokonnikova, punk is more about a rebellious attitude than a particular sound. “I’m going to be crucified by so many punks now,” she says. “But if you think you’re a punk just because you’re repeating something that people did in the Seventies, then I’m sorry to tell you, you’re not a punk. You’re a clone.”

Continue reading at The Independent