On the occasion of International Women’s Day on the 8th of March, Artists at Risk (AR) is celebrating two prominent Russian artists, feminist activists and political dissidents, Yulia Tsvetkova and Maria (Masha) Alekhina. Alongside many friends, colleagues and partners, we call attention to the grave injustices they face at the hands of the heavy hand of the Russian authorities. While Alexei Navalny’s widely-publicised poisoning at the hands of the FSB and subsequent imprisonment upon his return to Moscow have been key to the protest anti-Putin protest movement, International Women’s Day is an occasion to renew our focus on the systematic persecution and criminalization of gender- and sexuality-based art and activism in Russia.
Scoop: AR carried out a micro-interview with Masha Alekhina (aka Maria Alyokhina) from under house arrest…
AR managed to reach Masha Alekhina through her lawyer to hold a brief interview on the eve of International Women’s Day. She was arrested in the context of the pro-Navalny protests on January 23, and remains under house arrest until her next court hearing on the 23rd of March. She faces a sentence of up to two years emprisonment.
AR: What do you imagine International Women’s Day will look like in Russia in 20 years?
MA: It would be good to live until the end of this year! 20 years?! If you live through a year in Russia, that’s already good fortune. One can’t even imagine 20…
AR: What do things look like for International Women’s Day, 2021?
MA: I could say a lot about the 8th of March, but to celebrate women’s independence day this year, I got an unusual gift from the Russian government for my own independence: an electronic bracelet. Others didn’t seem to get one. In any case, I send everyone my congratulations.
AR: Will Russia be free?*
MA: We’re working on it.
*The slogan of the anti-Putin protest movement is “Russia will be free!”.
Recently named “Russia’s second-most famous political prisoner” by Vice World News and listed on the BBC’s 100 Women of 2020, Yulia Tsvetkova is facing up to six years in prison on charges of the criminal dissemination of “pornography and LGBT propaganda” for her body-positive representations of women’s bodies and her advocacy for LGBT rights in the remote city she lives in, in eastern Russia.
Tsvetkova garnered nationwide attention with her series of illustrations, A Woman Is Not A Doll , and her VK (Russian social media) page entitled Vagina Monologues also went viral. Together, they explore the themes of body-positivity and female sexuality, and challenge rigid social norms of feminine beauty. Her work speaks openly in defence of LGBT rights, and she has furthermore publicly supported Navalny, making her even more of a target for regime loyalists.
Under house arrest since November 2019, Tsvetkova is facing imminent trial after the local prosecutor gained approval for their “evidence”, after a year of numerous failed attempts at having the case heard in court. This politically-motivated, sham prosecution marks a worrying shift towards more stringent censorship and criminalization of feminist art. On International Women’s Day, just as much as any other day of the year, Artists at Risk (AR) unequivocally condemns this authoritarian tendency.
Tsvetkova’s case has received renewed attention in recent weeks after being propelled to the top spot on prominent Russian art publication Artguide’s annual ranking of Russian artworld figures. This was the result of an open letter by Dmitry Vilensky, member of the art group Chto Delat, expressing his wish to give up his position on the list in place of Tsvetkova, in this way offering her the due prominence he felt she deserves. This move inspired the director of the prominent Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Anton Belov to follow suit. As a result, Tsvetkova was given the top place in the ranking. In a further boost to Tsvetkova’s international profile, Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum also recently announced that it had purchased a number of her works.
Masha Alekhina, founding member of the Pussy Riot collective and member of the Artists at Risk (AR) International Advisory Board, is under house arrest, as mentioned above and on AR’s social media recently (in the context of the video segment from the #RiskandRebellion livestream). Alekhina was initially arrested in the context of the pro-Navalny demonstrations in February, and is currently facing two years in prison on charges of “violation of sanitary and epidemiological rules”. Given Pussy Riot’s notoriety as one of the world’s foremost dissident artist groups and a prominent voice for feminist and LGBTQ+ rights in Russia, these charges are clearly politically motivated, as International Memorial has recognised in designating her as a political prisoner. The trumped up charges can be read as a punishment for Alekhina, as well as her partner and fellow Pussy Riot member Lucy Shteyn, also under house arrest, for their prominent stance against the regime. Clearly it is also designed as a warning to those who sympathize with them. AR is gravely concerned by this pattern of deploying public health measures in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic to arbitrarily exact recrimination against prominent artistic and political dissidents.
Alekhina’s participation in the anti-Putin protests and subsequent arrest prevented her from taking up the invitation to participate live in AR’s #RiskandRebellion Symposium. AR took the opportunity to showcase Pussy Riot’s recent campaign of direct action prior to the protests surrounding the arrest of Navalny, which involved clandestine operations to drape rainbow flags on Russian state buildings in protest against official LGBTQ+ policies.
Artists at Risk (AR) is monitoring with concern the escalating censorship and criminalization of feminist and sexuality-based art and activism in Russia and around the world. We demand the immediate release from house arrest of Yulia Tsvetkova, Masha Alekhina and her partner Lucy Shteyn, as well as the dozens of others that have acted in protest against misogynist and anti-LGBTQ+ policies. Artists at Risk (AR) demands that all charges against them be dropped and calls upon all relevant Russian authorities to respect and protect the freedom of speech of all artists, activists and the legitimate political opposition which demonstrates the health of an advanced contemporary society.
Join AR in showing solidarity with Tsvetkova and Alekhina and demanding that all charges against them are dropped!
>Send a letter concerning Yulia to the Prosecutor General using a template (in multiple languages) from Amnesty International: https://bit.ly/3q6b5Qf
>>Support Pussy Riot members under house arrest: https://www.gofundme.com/f/dws6pj
>>>Sign the petition calling for Yulia’s release on change.org: http://bit.ly/3sBNUib
>>>>Raise awareness and share the #FreeTsvet campaign: https://www.freetsvet.net/
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