Sunday, August 12, 2012

Pan protests in support of artistic freedom

Dean Liscum

Thursday is "art night" in Houston. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is free and stays open late. Same for the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston. The parade of weekend gallery openings begin and you can always drink to the arts at the Houston Arts Alliance's Cultured Cocktails hosted at Boheme.

But this Thursday, 8/9/2012, I traded my role as observer of art for that as a protester for it. Via FaceBook, I received an invitation to show my support of the Russian female punk band named Pussy Riot. Admittedly, the name appeals to my inner Beavis and Butthead. Every time, I encounter the band's name, the juvenile in me (or rather that is me) launches into my own phrasing fest:
  • commotion of cunts
  • swarm of snatches
  • twat tumult
and because my synecdoche is more opportunistic than sexist or literal
  • dick disturbance
  • protest of penises
  • confusion of cocks
(Yes, my inner B&B favors alliteration.) But of course, the protest and Pussy Riot is not about sophomoric sayings. It's about freedom.

If you don't know Pussy Riot, they are a female punk rock band that is likened to Bikini Kill and the riot grrls! movement. I'd also compare them to Rage Against the Machine, the Clash, the Minutemen, and Crass--with one big exception. Pussy Riot's "gigs" are more like guerrilla happenings of performance art than concerts for cash. Robert Boyd pointed out that their performances are reminiscent of Crass's tendency to "sneak their politics into venues that aren't expecting them."  However, Crass's culture jamming incident's such as the Loving Magazine one in which the band managed to dupe the magazine to distribute a Crass flexi disc to its teen readership, didn't occur in a country famous for turning an entire region into one big prison camp. (And of course, an infamous style of prison itself, the Gulag.) The one detail that distinguishes Pussy Riot from the western bands that they are compared to is the context. Pussy Riot plays for keeps. They operate in a pseudo-democracy in which practicing free speech can get one seven years in one of those "boutique" Russian prisons. 

Here's a compendium of several of their "shows," which, as the video demonstrates, tend to be unwanted, cameo appearances at other groups events: fashion shows, high-end shops, and car exhibits.

Wikipedia's page on Pussy Riot succinctly summarizes the band's current situation. Basically, the band interrupted a religious service in a church and conducted a spontaneous "prayer." The prayer implores the Virgin Mary to remove Putin from office. It also accuses the head of the Russian Orthodox church, Kiril I, of believing in Putin more than god.

Here's a video of the crime in progress. (Or so the internet says. I can verify neither its nor my own authenticity.)

For such a heinous crime of expressing their opinions on Russian politics, they are charged with hooliganism. The charges are spelled out in excruciating detail in a 2,800 page indictment. Considering that the "crime" transpired in less than a minute, that's 47 pages a second. The sentence for the crime is 7 years in a Russian prison, not like the minimum security "country-club" prison that you get sentenced to if you steal $11 billion or sell a U.S. senate seat.

That didn't seem fair to me as my indictment pages per second of crime quota is around 35, 37 if a literary figure is involved. So, I joined the local protest.

The Houston protest in support of Pussy Riot took place in front of the Consulate General of Russia at 1333 West Loop S. (#1300), Houston, TX, which is at the corner of Post Oak Blvd and 610.

Here's are some photos of my fellow protesters.

She knows what her sign says.

I didn't make a sign ahead of time, but the organizer had some extras. I grabbed the following one. My understanding is that it calls for the release of Pussy Riot. Given my knowledge of Russian, it may invite the entire Russian Consulate to my place to a "sleep over" in which we drink Vodka and re-enact Pussy Riot performances.

I know Pussy Riot, but I don't know Russian.

Protester in Pussy Riot attire

Gettin' punny wit' it

Ski mask for the hard core

At one point during the protest, a group performed a performance piece. (I didn't hear their name but if you know it, post it in the comments and I'll give them credit.)

Pre-performance art huddle

Here's a grainy video shot by a total amateur (c'est moi) on his phone.

The primary message was "Hey Putin, (and Obama and Romney and all you 'democratic' leaders) quit dicking with our democratic rights.

 I'm the Great God Pan is Dead and I support this message.



  1. The performance was by Jessie Noel and Houston Counter Crawl Art

    1. she goes by Unna Bettie in her performances

  2. but, for YOU, is it about the sex.
    why are you showing support for people who don't respect other people, their beliefs, or their property. Put the other shoe on the other foot and you'd be highly P----d.
    You're not really supporting freedom of speech or any other noble thing. It's just a bunch of girls (gone wild) with a catchy name.
    . . . and that's your prerogative.

  3. I won't speak for Dean, but I will say that the proposed punishment, 7 years in prison for "hooliganism", seems wildly out of proportion with the crime. Fining them for trespass and disturbing the peace, that I could accept. But 7 years hard time for a prank offends my sense of proportion. To put it another way, would you think 7 years imprisonment would be acceptable if it were applied to the guys who heckled Paul Ryan today? But I guess that's the difference between Russia and the U.S.A.