Everyone can be a Pussy Riot (Art and Resistance – Chapter 1)

By Manon Beury

“I cannot attend the Pussy Riot’s performance tonight. Do you want my ticket?” 

It is a beautiful gift that Fiana, founder of Creating Rights, offered me this Thursday morning.  On January 31st, 2019, we waited for the show to start at 20:30 at Paard in The Hague. I didn’t know what to expect from what the venue’s website described as “a theatre project” by the Pussy Riot Theatre “with fevered monologues underpinned by real footage and frenetic noise-punk.” Little did I know that every single minute of Riot Days would resonate with Creating Rights’ focus on human rights, justice and art. My expectation, however, was that this opportunity would be a great starting point for a project that I had in mind: exploring the multifaceted interplay between art and resistance.

The Russian feminist art collective Pussy Riot was created in 2011 with the explicit goal of conducting guerrilla action through art performance. The link between art and resistance cannot be clearer. One year later, international attention turned to Russia when three members of the Pussy Riot, including co-founder Maria (Masha) Alyokhina, were sentenced to two years in prison following a performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Smuggling a guitar and an amplifier into the church, their face covered with coloured knitted balaclavas that will soon become internationally famous, they performed a “Punk Prayer” at the altar to protest against the Orthodox Church’s support for Putin’s election campaign.

Based on Maria Alyokhina’s newly published book of the same name, the performance Riot Days relates the story of this protest, her subsequent arrest and incarceration. It is not theatre nor a concert or a mix of both. Alyokhina herself is on stage, accompanied by Kiryl Masheka, Diana Burkot, and Oleg Larionov. On minimalist electronics, they rattle off a long monologue in Russian, only interspersed with jazzy saxophone, hysterical drums solos and some of Pussy Riot’s songs. The text is a mix of Alyokhina’s poetic memoir, quotes that influenced her, dissenting political statements and excerpts from the trial transcripts. Each word is translated on a gigantic screen behind the stage, where documentary footage frantically unfurls and political slogans in bold white letters on black screen flash from the screen as they sing or shout in unison. It is punk, wild and yet perfectly synchronized. The outburst of audio-visual effects makes it impossible to read the subtitles, watch the video and enjoy the show all at once, especially when you cannot stop dancing. As a result, I wanted to watch the performance again at the minute it was over. Or read the book.


The performance starts with a powerful prayer chant in an atmosphere charged with defiant reverence. While the screen shows footage of the preparation of the Punk Prayer in February 2012, the audience dives into the young band’s excitement and Alyokhina’s self-doubts: “Do I have the right to do this or am I a barbarian?” All along the show, she will interrogate what is right, just or fair.


The pace of the song raises relentlessly as we follow the band in hiding throughout Moscow. With humour, the performers enumerate golden rules to escape the police: “We ate whatever God sent our way, which was usually pasta.” Fragmented images of the band running through metro stations and Alyokhina giving interviews to foreign journalists from the bathrooms of a café. Smiles on the audience’s face swiftly fade when the image of a police van appears on screen. In March 2012, Alyokhina, Nadezhda (Nadya) Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina (Katya) Samutsevich were arrested and charged with “disorderly conduct, committed with the purpose of inciting religious hatred by a group of persons in an intentional conspiracy”. Restless, wearing their balaclavas and panda masks, the performers recount the trial, mistreatment by the police and the sentence of two years in prison in August 2012. Dropping her mask, protected by a black hood, Alyokhina stands at the centre of the stage to tell the story of her incarceration and solitary confinement in a Siberian penal colony: “the republic of convicts” in the Ural mountains. 

Pussy Riot on stage at Summerhall, Edinburgh, with Maria ‘Masha’ Alyokhina, centre, in balaclava. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose for the Observer The Guardian, 19 August 2018


The darkest moment of the performance is suddenly disrupted when Kiryl Masheka starts throwing countless bottles of water to the crowd. Standing close to the stage, I am soaked but grateful as the audience around me finally begins to dance and respond to what happens on stage. Defiance takes over the gloom when the performers strip their hoodies and light their cigarettes on stage before engaging in a frenetic dance on ravey techno music. Alyokhina explains what life looks like in today’s Russian gulags: tales of human rights abuses, protests and hunger strikes, inmates’ solidarity and romantic love between women.


Having served 21 months in prison, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were released in December 2013 following an amnesty approved by the Russian Parliament. Riot Days ends with the pictures of political activists who remain imprisoned. In the venue’s hall, the collective sells t-shirt proclaiming that “Everyone can be a Pussy Riot”, destined to finance the lawyers’ fees of those in the penal colonies. Art financing justice and resistance.

“Who killed my brother?” The story of Luciano Arruga

By Njomza Miftari 

“Enforced disappearances” is a phrase that is not frequently mentioned in the European human rights context, however, this is not the case in regions such as Latin America where enforced disappearances has dreadfully impacted thousands of families in the last decades. “Who killed my brother?”, is a documentary directed by Ana Fraile and Lucas Scavino which sheds light on the issue by following the story of Luciano Arruga. The story of Luciano Arruga is about a 16-year-old boy who went missing on the 31st of January 2009 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The documentary follows the events carried out by his sister Vanesa Orieta who desperately seeks to find justice for her missing brother. It is evident from the beginning that her fight would not be an easy one but she is a force to be reckoned with. Her support grew stronger throughout the years with friends and families of Luciano joining Vanesa’s cause and together being able to organize collective demonstrations, demanding action by institutions and making sure their voices were being heard. She also travels to Geneva where she meets with Sara Oviedo, Vice-Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in order to bring attention to her case and to discuss the lack of due diligence by Argentina at an international platform. It is an emotional journey but nonetheless a necessary one on her path to justice.

Copyright Pulpofilms

In 1980, the Commission of Human Rights (Human Rights Council) established the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to assist families in determining the fate or whereabouts of their family members who had reportedly disappeared. According to their report in 2009, the number of cases reported to the working group from Argentina from 1980 is 3,449 cases.  According to the Arruga family, although it has been 35 years of democracy in Argentina, the case of Luciano and other cases of enforced disappearances shows that Argentina is having the same practices similar to a once known dictatorship: kidnapping, torture, killings and disappearances. Democracy has been mainly sporadic, or worse, it has come in a wave of segregation and oppression among favela and ghetto areas.

Copyright Pulpofilms

The documentary shows the intense repercussions that remain among the family and friends of the disappeared and more importantly providing better insight to a situation that is yet to be understood by nonnative Argentinians. The lack of transparency from institutions and high level of corruption are some of the factors underlined in this documentary. For instance, Vanessa describes her experience at the police station, when Luciano was initially arrested prior to his disappearance, that, upon her arrival she had heard Luciano yell from the holding cell “Take me out of here, they are beating me to death.”   

On the 31st of January 2019, it was the 10 year anniversary of Luciano Arruga’s disappearance where Vanessa and hundreds of other people (as seen from the picture below) marched in General Paz y Mosconi in solidarity with friends and families of victims who have disappeared.

Copyright Canal Abierto 

The documentary will be screened on the 9th of February 2019, 19:00 hrs at Filmhaus Nürnberg during the Lateinamerikafilmtage in Nuremberg, Germany. Pulpofilms is also looking to partner with any organization who is willing to screen the documentary and raise awareness. For more information, please see the links below:



Artistic exploration into international legal work: a matter of evidence?

by Fiana Gantheret

The question of the way different fields come together to enrich international criminal investigations and legal work was already touched upon here on Creating Rights when looking at Eyal Weizmann’s and Susan Schuppli’s project Forensic Architecture, a research project at the crossroads of international human rights law, architecture and engineering.

See You in The Hague by Stroom Den Haag, “a multifaceted narrative about the ambitions and reality of The Hague as international city of peace and justice”, offers further reflection on the encounter between artistic practice and international criminal processes, rendered here through the projects of Susan Schuppli and Jason File.

It presented last fall Susan Schuppli’s Evidence on Trial, a project featuring a conference and a video installation, as well as the screening of a documentary, Material Witness. Through these artistic manifestations, Susan Schuppli explores the path followed by media materials when presented in various public and legal forums such as international tribunals and agencies. What impact does court’s processings have on their evidentiary capacity to produce the truth, as required from them? Susan Schuppli’s project explores “how histories are materially and computationally encoded by media and by which means the complex political realities they are embedded in are rendered visible. In short, it is an inquiry into how objects become agents of contestation between different stake- holders and truth claims“. A methodology of a forensic nature in line with the one governing Forensic Architecture.



Evidence at Trial, Stroom Den Haag – 16 November 2016                                                   Photographs by Fiana Gantheret

More recently, a duo exhibition was visible at Stroom Den Haag, entitled A Crushed Image (20 Years After Srebrenica), and presenting artwork by Jason File and Peter Koole. Peter Koole is a Dutch artist who, after having seen repeatedly the word Srebrenica on medias, decided for the first time to include it in his art work. Jason File is a contemporary visual artist, as well as a prosecutor at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. In the exhibition, Jason File presents various art works staging evidentiary documents in front of the international tribunal. As he explained himself during the finissage of the exhibition that took place in Stroom Den Haag on 12 April 2015, Jason File is interested in the ambiguity and subjectivity made possible through art, which legal work cannot offer. He uses evidence material such as autopsy drawings, hearings’ transcripts, and the day-to-day gesture of shredding confidential documents, and, by presenting them through artistic lenses, introduces ambiguity into legal work by interrogating their identities as objects.


drawing 3

A Crushed Image (20 Years After Srebrenica) – Jason File – The Earth and the Stars / Photographs by Fiana Gantheret


A Crushed Image (20 Years After Srebrenica) – Jason File – The End                                 Photograph by Fiana Gantheret

Both Jason File and Susan Schuppli’s projects raise the following question: is it possible to think as artists in a domain that isn’t artistic? In other words, what to think about what art has to say and the relevance of it for international legal processes? As Jason File puts it in Post Script – a text written in an attempt to answer the question of whether it is possible for someone in the legal profession to have a double articulation that includes the making of art – “aesthetic critique is incompatible with properly-functioning judicial systems from the internal perspective of the operations of a trial”. Rather, if critique there is, it will follow an internal pattern of rules. Jason File explains this by referring to the mandate given to international criminal proceedings to establishing facts beyond a reasonable doubt and applying a normative judgment to them. He also refers to the underlying assumption that there is an objective truth that the international criminal justice system tends to ascertain, to a degree that allows confidence in the system’s ability to do “justice”.

He therefore describes a criterion, presiding over the choices made in determining which sets of rules will define the field in question. In Justice, Uncompressed, published along with the exhibition, Jason File compares these choices to those driving digital image compression:

In its laws, rules, procedures, technology and practical resource constraints, an international criminal tribunal has its own compression algorithm. Under a tent, the physical remains of a victim excavated from a mass grave are converted into words and images on paper through the mediating influence of an investigator drafting a report. The report becomes a proxy for the real thing, the smell of the location, the dirt, the feel of a bone which itself stands in for the personal experience of the victim itself, now irretrievably lost. Much raw information and experience is removed in order to distill the facts that are relevant for the purpose of the investigation.

The question of the confrontation between the fields of justice and art was at the core of the debate that ended Susan Schuppli’s Evidence on Trial, and which took place on 16 November 2014 in The Hague Institute for Global Justice. There, Susan Schuppli’s text Entering Evidence, in which she “conceptually interrogate(s) the ways in which the post-production treatment of media materials – their copying, editing, digitalizing, and chain-of-custody handling – impacts upon their evidentiary capacity to produce the truth claims that are required for ‘the justice of law’ to answer the ‘injustices of war’”, was discussed by practitioners of international criminal justice. They made the remark, in particular, that “the research of media materials in the ICTY archives should be left strictly to legal professionals” (for a thorough account of the debate following the conference, as well as interesting thoughts on the relationship between arts, peace and justice, see Brigitte van der Sande’s post on See you in The Hague Blog).

Jason File and Susan Schuppli concur to think that there should be more opportunities to communicate between both worlds, which would each benefit from such collaboration. From the internal perspective of international criminal processes, forensic work such as the one performed by Susan Schuppli could bring a meaningful contribution by interrogating evidence material, provided that the conditions of admissibility and evaluation of evidence be respected, namely in accord with the “internal pattern of rules”. Even if Susan Schuppli’s approach has an artistic aim that is external to its object of study – international criminal operations – it can be made compatible to a judicial evaluation of the evidence from an internal point of view and therefore contribute to the judicial truth, the “objective truth”, as described by Jason File in Post-Script. On the other hand, one must distinguish between the judicial truth as produced by international tribunals and a broader artistic approach which, as in the case of Jason File’s work, takes part in a collective and socio-philosophical vision not focusing on individual criminal responsibility. In the latter case, the object of study is extracted form its context and submitted to an artistic and external understanding. In this instance, there is, in our view, no other relation between the two fields than one of mutual respect and interest.


The Peace and Justice Project: How political cartoons contribute to the debate

By Fiana Gantheret

On the occasion of the bicentennial of the Dutch Constitution, the Cartoon Movement, together with Word Press Photo, the City of The Hague and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched on 29 March 2014 the Peace and Justice cartoon project at the Peace Palace in The Hague, The Netherlands.

With reference to Article 90 of the Constitution, which provides that “The Government shall promote the development of the international rule of law”, the project aims at triggering a debate on peace and justice through a series of guest lectures in several countries and the sharing of ideas that will follow these lectures. The students will be invited to share their thoughts by sending their tweets, sketches, comments and photos, that professional cartoonists will then transform into cartoons.

Here is a presentation of the project:

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