Russian Dissident Artist Pyotr Pavlensky Seeks Political Asylum in France

A Russian actress has accused him and his wife of sexually assaulting her.

Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky leaves the courthouse on June 8, 2016 in Moscow. Photo courtesy Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images.

Controversial performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky is on the run from his home country of Russia, but this time it isn’t a provocative art-activist stunt that has the authorities after him: a Russian actress has accused Pavlensky and his wife of violent sexual assault, DPA reports, and if found guilty, the couple could face up to 10 years in prison.

Pavlensky spoke to Doschd, a Russian opposition television channel, on Monday, and called the accusations “denunciations.” In response, he, his wife, and their two children have reportedly fled to France, via Ukraine and Belarus, where they plan to apply for political asylum.

The artist has been in trouble with the law before, but for his shocking and sometimes vandalistic pieces of performance art: in 2016, he served seven months in prison and was given a 500,000 ruble ($7,800) fine for his November 2015 performance Threat, during which he set fire to the door of the headquarters of the FSB security services in Moscow. He stated upon release that he could not afford to pay the fine, but even if he could, he would have refused on principle.

Other performances have seen him sewing his lips shut, nailing his scrotum to the Red Square, burning tires, cutting his ear, and wrapping himself in barbed wire as acts of political protest. During his time in prison, he has reportedly been beaten and placed in a mental health facility.

Yet despite charges against him, Pavlensky has been able to appeal to at least some members of Russian authorities: in 2015, he converted the position of an investigator assigned to interrogate him. Pavel Yasman was so inspired by the artist’s dedication to his work, that he quit his job with the Russian Investigative Committee. At least, Pavlensky has captured the pop cultural imagination—in September, St. Petersburg Burger King restaurants sold a run of hamburgers inspired by his most infamous performances.

However, the latest allegations against him and his wife look like the last straw for the artist, who seeks to remain in France.

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