for further exploration: music, art, film, and creative solutions

The latest on Pussy Riot: Formerly imprisoned members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina are coming to New York to talk about political prisoners for an Amnesty International event. Despite Putin’s attempts to silence them, Tolokonnikova and Alekhina remain unwavering in their commitment to social change. Journalist Masha Gessen’s recently published book Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot is at the top of my must-read list.

More riot grrrls: Dazed has an excellent A-Z guide to the women who stomped through the 90s, from Allison Wolfe to zines. Love it. (That’s an expression of my love and a demand for yours.)

Art I’m into right now: Lindsay Bottos offers a clever, artistic response to gendered online harassment. ONOMOllywood, an exhibition from photographers Antoine Tempé and Omar Victor Diop, features iconic film shots re-imagined in Dakar and Abidjan. (It’s sort of an ad campaign for a hotel chain.) The photographs Ibi Ibrahim will soon be showing in the Art14 London Art Fair are a sex-positive response to conservative Islam.

From 6 minutes to 24 hours: Tired of being expected to play a terrorist, Iranian-American actor Jemilah King made a short displaying Hollywood’s narrow view and her much broader abilities. If you’ve got more time, the Global Lives Project curates a collection of films that “faithfully capture 24 continuous hours in the life of individuals from around the world.” It’s a work in progress devoted to cultivating empathy, and there’s a two-week unit for educators to use.

Creativity in places you aren’t looking for it but should be: Women’s World Summit Foundation is seeking nominations for the 2014 Prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life, emphasizing sustainable development, household food security, and peace. 

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new music: but really this is about kathleen hanna

Kathleen Hanna by Jason Persse

I’m not the new-music sleuth I used to be. Back in the day (the 90s), I loved to flip through CDs and records until I found something that seemed interesting and shell out what little cash I had to make it mine. It was always a bit of a gamble but often worth it. And because I didn’t have much money to spend, each new item was special.

Then I married a serious music collector and ended up in a house so full of records and CDs that I don’t even know where to begin. My collection got swallowed up, and I often don’t remember what I have. He knows what he has, however, because he has a spreadsheet (or something much fancier now, some kind of app, I think) but also because I think he might have a photographic memory when it comes to records. But only records. You might say, no, he has whatever is the equivalent for sound memory, but there are records in there he has never listened to. And he still knows. He’s like the record whisperer.

Not long ago, he confessed that there probably isn’t enough time in his life to listen to everything he owns, so I said, “Maybe you have enough?” He looked at me like I was a naive child or confused alien. Recently, we watched a documentary about crazy record collectors, but that got me thinking that there needs to be a documentary about the people who live with record collectors and their multiplying shelves and stacks and bins and obsessions.

Though I’ve sometimes bought music online, it doesn’t elicit the same thrill as a living, breathing record store. There’s so much music online and so many avenues to wander down that I often feel overwhelmed and just go back to playing out the Cat Power CDs I can see at the front of one of the many shelves in our house.

So I’d been thinking that I needed some new music in my life, but then the news about Pussy Riot’s release (hurrah!) got me in a Bikini Kill mood. The original riot grrrls started their own record label, Bikini Kill Records, and reissued their 1992 self-titled debut in late 2012. It sold out, but they’ve got more now! The 20th anniversary reissue includes cool extras like interviews, liner notes, and zine excerpts. O zines, how I have missed thee! I know, that’s not exactly new music…

Remember that Julie Ruin album Kathleen Hanna made between Bikini Kill and Le Tigre? Get off the internet! I’ll meet you in the street. Well, she formed a band called The Julie Ruin, and their first album, Run Fast, came out last fall. (Oh my god, they have played with Hot Fruit.) That’s new! That counts, right?

Did you know there’s also a documentary about Kathleen Hanna? The Punk Singer, directed by Siri Anderson, includes Joan Jett, Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth, Free Kitten), Johanna Fateman (Le Tigre), Kathi Wilcox (Bikini Kill), Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker (Sleater Kinney), Ad-Rock (Beastie Boys and her hubby, in case you didn’t know), and Tavi Gevinson (Rookie Magazine). It’s still playing in select cities. If you don’t see your town, you can get a local venue to book it.

Kathleen Hanna’s “Riot Grrrl Manifesto” was instrumental in expanding my feminism and helping me define myself. She was an important figure in my life, and I still adore her.

This all makes me happy, but I need new music from new people. Hold the phone–Cibo Matto has a new record coming out on Valentine’s Day! Their last one came out fifteen years ago. Fifteen years!

Okay, I’m stuck in the 90s.

I promise that my next music post will be about new music.

I’m also taking suggestions. Ahem.


tortured mouths: thoughts on maria alyokhina

Pussy Riot by Igor Murkhin

In The Guardian, actor Romola Garai writes about Maria Alyokhina’s hunger strike in a Ural Mountains prison and Pussy Riot‘s continued defiance–from behind bars and through supporters–against Russia’s corrupt regime.

Alyokhina is a 24-year-old poet, mother, and student. After Pussy Riot, feminist performance artists, performed “Punk Prayer” in a Russian Orthodox cathedral to protest the church’s increasingly close relationship with Putin’s government, she became the de facto spokesperson of the three arrestees with zingers like: “I thought the church loved all its children, but it seems the church loves only those children who believe in Putin.”

Her fervent arguments didn’t stop the court from sentencing the women to two years in a rural prison camp, but Pussy Riot won’t stop fighting. In a recent interview, fellow Pussy Riot member and prisoner Nadezhda Tolokonnikova vowed to continue her political art once she is released, and now Alyokhina has endured an eleven-day hunger strike after authorities prevented her from attending her parole hearing.

Hunger strikes always make me think of Alice Paul and remind me to be grateful. In her fight for US women’s suffrage, Paul endured taunts, violence, imprisonment, and psychiatric evaluations in a sanitarium. In response to Paul’s hunger strike in Occuquan Workhouse, authorities strapped her down and force-fed her raw eggs by shoving a tube down her throat until she vomited blood.

It’s easy to forget that much of what we have comes from the struggles of other people.

Interestingly, the suffragist motto was “deeds, not words.” But sometimes words are deeds, no? Isn’t that what Pussy Riot’s trial was about?

Alyokhina’s strike may have just ended, but Guantánamo Bay detainees are more than 100 days into a hunger strike and force-feeding has reared its ugly head. Many detainees have been confined for more than a decade without charges, and they are protesting President Obama’s failure to close the prison as he promised in his campaign.

In 2007, detainee Adnan Lanif participated in a six-month hunger strike. Originally from Yemen, he had suffered a brain injury as a result of a car accident and traveled to Afghanistan to obtain medical treatment from a charity, but the US believed that he was headed for a training camp. He was held in Guantánamo for ten years, seven months, and 25 days until he died.

Fortunately, we have his words. Here’s an excerpt from Lanif’s “Hunger Strike Poem” from Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak.:

They are artists of torture,
They are artists of pain and fatigue,
They are artists of insults and humiliation.

Where is the world to save us from torture?
Where is the world to save us from the fire and sadness?
Where is the world to save the hunger strikers?

But I circle back to Russia, thinking of how writing and revolution have always gone hand in hand in that vast landscape. I’m reminded of Anna Akhmatova, the censored Russian poet who once wrote of her “tortured mouth, / through which a hundred million people shout.” When Akhmatova had the chance to leave her country for a refuge, she refused and spent the rest of her life under surveillance, losing loved ones to gulags. Yet in her lonely, restricted existence under Stalin, she managed to chronicle the Terror through verse.

Like Stalin, Putin seems to think he can silence anyone by making them suffer. And so does the US–not just with Guantánamo, but with our entire prison industrial complex, which spreads far and wide. Alyokhina’s loud voice has already made her a political prisoner. What will she sound like when she is freed? A tortured mouth? Thunder and rain?

By the time Akhmatova wrote “You Will Hear Thunder,” sorrow surrounded her, staining cobblestones and crowding empty rooms, but her pen still ran across the page:

You will hear thunder and remember me,
And think: she wanted storms. The rim
Of the sky will be the colour of hard crimson,
And your heart, as it was then, will be on fire.