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Let’s Start a Pussy Riot (Curated by Emely Neu and Edited by Jade French)

Crystal Erickson August 15, 2013

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Tributes to Russian punk rockers Pussy Riot have surfaced from all corners of the world since three members of the band were convicted on charges of hooliganism in August 2012. Last year, Feminist Press released Pussy Riot! A Punk Prayer for Freedom, which consisted of courtroom statements, poetry, songs and tributes from famous fans of the band. This year’s Let’s Start A Pussy Riot, released by Rough Trade Books (part of the Rough Trade Records empire), is the ultimate tribute to Pussy Riot and feminist art; it profiles the band, explains the infamous trial in greater detail and features feminist art created both prior to the trial and specifically for this collection. In collaboration with Pussy Riot, the book was curated by performance artist Emely Neu and edited by Jade French and showcases a variety of perspectives from feminist writers, artists, photographers, musicians and more.

The book is divided into two sections, one called “Pussy Riot” and the other “Let’s Start A Pussy Riot!”, each of which contain chapters relevant to the theme of the section. The chapter on Pussy Riot contains a manifesto from the band, a Q&A with the band, documents from the trial and lyrics from “Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away (Punk Prayer),” the song whose performance at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior led to the arrests of band members Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich.

Nearly 70 famous feminists contribute to the “Let’s Start A Pussy Riot!” section, including Yoko Ono, Vaginal Davis, Kara Walker, Kim Gordon and Robyn. Illustrations, paintings and photographed performance art pieces are interwoven with essays, songs and poetry, which work together to tell a compelling story of the past, present and future of the feminist movement. Blogger, columnist and author Laurie Penny’s powerful essay, “Notes From a Feminist Book Tour: It’s Alright to Want Everything” sums up the sentiment shared by the feminists featured in the book (and likely that of readers as well): disgust for the belief that women should be happy with what they have, instead of pressing this “feminist issue,” which so many paint as all in the past. Penny likens feminism to space travel when she writes:

“I wonder if the shiver of impossible yearning I experience when I watch space battles on the television is what my nanna and women like her felt when they watched us going to university, having boyfriends before marriage, traveling to other countries, dancing all night in dresses cut short so you can feel the sweaty air of dark clubs on your thighs. For her, my life was [and] is, science fiction: strange and frightening, enabled by technology, and I see women my age handling it all as casually as an extra on the Original Star Trek might handle one of those palm computers that looked so exciting in the 1970s and now look like dated, old-model smartphones. We handle it all casually because we’re unable to conceive of an even better world. We’ve been told that this shaky picture is the best we’re ever going to get.”

In his contribution to the collection, Antony Hegarty (of Antony and the Johnsons) speaks directly to Penny’s point and defines the new concept of “future feminism”:

“Describing ‘feminism’ as a futuristic idea challenges the notion that feminism’s time has passed, or even worse, that its goals have been achieved. It also suggests that there are frontiers of feminism that have not yet been realized [sic], and that feminism is still in its infancy. In the same way that the United States isn’t ‘post-race’ as some suggest, the world is certainly not ‘post-sex’.”

Let’s Start A Pussy Riot is both a celebration of a band and a call for action; in its depictions of various forms of and views on feminism, it keeps the movement alive and intact and urges us all to join the fight for equality.

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About The Author

Crystal is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis. Her work has appeared in Bitch, Slingshot, Venus Zine and The Onion's A.V. Club.