For the WWW+ series today we talk about a controversial artist, who has often split public opinion in half by blurring the boundaries between art, protest and crime. I’m referring to Petr Pavlensky, Russian artist and political activist known throughout the world for his spectacular actions, at high risk level, in which the body is the main character of the scene: a means of expression as well as a vehicle of very powerful messages.
The artist is fighting for the right to freedom of expression, contesting government censorship, discrimination and abuse of power. He does so by resorting to extreme actions inspired by the Viennese Actionism of the 70s, often resorting to self harm and mutilation.
You may remember him for one of his first works, probably the most famous: in 2012 Petr was on all the newspapers protesting the imprisonment of three Pussy Riot members accused of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, following a demonstration that challenged the support of the Orthodox Church to President Vladimir Putin’s government.
On that occasion Petr appeared in front of Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg with his mouth sewn shut and a sign comparing the actions of the punk rock band to verses 21:12-13 of the Gospel according to Matthew, which read: “The Pussy Riot action was a replica of the famous action of Jesus Christ.”
Seam, inspired by the famous actions of David Wojnarowicz who, in 1989, sew his mouth together to protest against the Reagan administration’s disinterest in combating AIDS, led to Pavlensky’s arrest as he was considered to be insane.
According to the artist himself, the motivations behind this action were: “Sewing up my mouth, I showed the situation of the contemporary artist in Russia, living in an environment where there’s a ban on publicity, the tightening of censorship and suppression of public statements in contemporary art”.
Petr Pavlensky’s gesture was replicated by Femen in 2018 when he was on trial accused of vandalism, having set fire to the Bank of France in Paris. Just as the artist himself had done for Pussy Riot, this feminist group stood in front of the courthouse naked with their mouths sewn shut, as a manifesto, shouting slogans in support of Pavlensky’s cause and his release.
To find out more about the work of Petr Pavlensky you can consult the sitography available on ZìrArtmag. Had you already heard about this Russian artist? What do you think about his actions of protest? Let us know in the comments!
Ph Credits | @pyotrpavlensky – @femen_official – @free_petr
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Translated by Ludovica Sarti