Russian Dissident Artist Leonid Nikolayev Is Dead at 31

Nikolayev once sprinted through traffic with a bucket on his head.

Leonid Nikolayev

Leonid Nikolayev, a prominent member of the Russian dissident art collective Voina, died following an accident while cutting timber outside Moscow on September 22. His death was announced by Voina founder Oleg Vorotnikov in a September 24 blog post. “He fell into a coma and died at the emergency room,” wrote Vorotnikov. Nikolayev was 31.

Voina is best known for stunts that have included painting a giant phallus on a drawbridge facing the St. Petersburg headquarters of the Federal Security Service, staging an orgy in Moscow’s Darwin Museum, and interrupting a courtroom proceeding to perform a song called “All Cops are Bаstards, Remember This.” In 2011, the group was given an award for innovation in the visual arts by the Russian Ministry of Culture.

Nadya Tolokonnikova, best known for her work as part of the punk rock feminist protest group Pussy Riot, joined the ranks of Voina in 2007 along with her husband, Pyotr Verzilov.

More than a dozen criminal cases have been brought against the group, and, according to Vorotnikov, Nikolayev had “lived underground for years under assumed names” in order to avoid police and government persecution. He was arrested numerous times for guerrilla protest actions, including once in 2011 after overturning a police vehicle alongside Vorotnikov. The BBC reported that they were released four months later after Banksy paid 300,000 rubles ($8,283) bail for each of them.

Photo: Free Voina.

Photo: Free Voina.

“He was a uniquely brave man: steadfast, determined, reliable,” Vorotnikov wrote.

Nikolayev—who was nicknamed “Crazy Lenya” by his fellow activists—is remembered for his brave actions during the group’s 2010 Blue Bucket protests, in which he sprinted across a busy street wearing a blue bucket atop his head. The bucket was a symbol of the blue flashing beacons Russian government officials often place atop their vehicles in order to cut through traffic, often causing accidents and killing pedestrians along the way.

According to atribute to Nikolayev posted on Voina’s blog, he “walked in the traffic lanes on Moscow’s busiest streets.
 He blindly moved against traffic, ignoring the speed limits and obstructing public transportation.” During one protest, he climbed on top of a government official’s car. The car’s driver got out and knocked the bucket off of his head—only to reveal a second blue bucket underneath.

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