Pussy Riot on Art, Activism, and Their Name’s Hilarious Russian Translation

They joined Klaus Biesenbach on stage at MoMA PS1.

Pussy RiotPhoto: courtesy MoMA PS1.
Pussy Riot
Photo: courtesy MoMA PS1.

On November 2nd, Pussy Riot members Masha Alekhina, Nadya Tolokonnikova, and Petya Verzilov joined Klaus Biesenbach for a discussion at MoMA PS1, in conjunction with the museum’s current exhibition, “Zero Tolerance“, which features the group’s work. After making an unsurprisingly badass entrance in colored sunglasses (sans facemasks) and a pause to take an Instagram photo from the stage, the trio dropped some wisdom, both hilarious and heartbreaking, on the crowd.

For example: Ever wonder what the name “Pussy Riot” translates to in Russian? “Riot” is not a concept in the language (this was part of their reason for choosing it), and the translation for “pussy” doesn’t exactly carry the same connotation as it does in English slang. “They don’t understand it, the Russian propaganda guys on TV try to translate it, and they translate it to “Enraged Vaginas,” said Tolokonnikova, as the room erupted in laughter.

But Vladimir Putin, apparently, won’t refer to them at all. According to the trio, he has never actually said their name aloud. “He has this magical, tech-centered approach to his thinking, where he thinks that if he names something, it will go on existing, and become much more threatening. He avoids naming things that he doesn’t like. It’s like, every word is a hashtag,” Verzilov laughed.

Pussy Riot's

Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alekhina.

It’s easy to forget, based on just looking at them, how much these young people have endured for their art and their convictions. When asked how they can continue to live in Moscow after everything that’s happened to them, their response was especially valiant. “We are part of this political battle that is currently going on in Russia. And we, the members of the political opposition often have a saying: ‘Why leave when we would rather have Putin leave?’ We honestly want Putin and his cronies to get the hell out of our country and for it to become a different place…and we believe we have the power to make that happen,” said Tolokonnikova. A spontaneous applause filled the room.

What’s next for the group? They’re writing a book about their experiences in prison, as well as their unfair trial in the courtroom. Their more immediate plans, according to Klaus, included dinner with him and Marina Abramović after the talk.


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