Pussy Riot kick the Edinburgh door in with a multimedia show featuring their protest songs and an exhibition of art from the Free Pussy Riot movement.

The image of three young women enclosed in a cage in a Russian court was one of the most striking images of 2011. Pussy Riot, the feminist punk art group were imprisoned for their guerrilla performance of ‘Punk Prayer’ in front of the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow.

The story of the protest, the trial and the aftermath is told in Pussy Riot: Riot Days, a Fringe performance featuring Maria Alyokhina, who was imprisoned for two years for opposing President Vladimir Putin.

Pussy Riot

Photo by Jack Kirwin -JK Photography-

Producer Alexander Cheparukhin, says, “I think what the world saw were three women, looking fragile but remaining strong and daring to protest against a powerful regime.

“Riot Days is based on the book by Maria Alyokhina, also known as Masha. She won three lawsuits after the case, and become a symbol of resistance.”

Nastya AWOTT, another original Pussy Riot member is also in the cast.  Her surname, which is always written in capitals, is a pseudonym which stands for Asian Women on the Telephone.

Photo by Jack Kirwin -JK Photography-

The show will incorporate many different forms, combining text, song, performance, archive videos, and physical theatre. “It is built around the three essential songs of Pussy Riot: ‘Putin has Pissed Himself’, ‘Punk Prayer: Mother of God Drive Putin Away’ and  ‘Putin Lights the Fire for Revolution’.”

Members of Pussy Riot, wearing brightly colourful balaclavas, began staging protests in 2011 after President Dmitri Medvedev announced that Vladimir Putin would be the presidential candidate, despite having already served two terms. The move was supported by the Russian Orthodox Church.

“I was always free because I felt free. It’s very important to be free inside. The most important thing is to feel free.”Click To Tweet

After their protest performance, Alyokhina, Tollonikhova and Yekaterina Semutchevich were found guilty of ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.’ Their dignified speeches from a cage in the dock made them world famous.

Chepharukhin, a theatrical producer and festival promoter, was one of the people who persuaded those with power in the rock and pop world to make statements in favour of Pussy Riot.

Madonna took off her t-shirt in concert in Moscow to reveal the words Pussy Riot on her back. Yoko Ono, Peter Gabriel and Patti Smith sent messages of support, and Paul McCartney, who is a particularly huge star in Russia, replied to an email asking for help within hours.

Some of these messages of support are displayed at Summerhall as part of Free the Pussy!, an exhibition curated by artist Tamsyn Challenger, who was part of the international Free Pussy Riot movement.

But as Chepharukhin says: “It is not just about Putin and Russia. A lot of people in different countries have come to us and said you have inspired us to protest about what is happening in our countries.

“Many people still think Pussy Riot were a real punk band – but they were political activists. There were many people involved.”

Just as punk rock said that anyone could pick up a guitar and form a band, Pussy Riot was always meant to be a protest movement. Maria Alyokhina, who was a journalism student at the time of her arrest, continues to be an activist and, with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, founded MediaZona, which is now an alternative source of news in Russia.

As Alyokhina likes to remind people: “I was always free because I felt free. It’s very important to be free inside. The most important thing is to feel free.”

WHERE & WHEN

Pussy Riots: Riot Days, Summerhall, 10-19 August, 7pm, £17.50

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