Nadya Tolokonnikova is a Russian conceptual artist and political activist. She is the founding member of the art collective Pussy Riot, which has been one of the world’s most recent prominent art groups, aiming to focus attention on human rights violations at home and abroad. She is also known for a history of political activism with the controversial street art group Voina.
On February 21, 2012, five members of the Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot staged a performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow known as the Punk Prayer. Dressed in brightly colored tights and balaclavas, they performed their punk prayer, asking the Virgin Mary to drive out Russian president Vladimir Putin from the church. After just forty seconds, they were chased out by security. Three members of the collective, Maria Alyokhina, Nadya Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, known as Masha, Nadya, and Katya, were later arrested and charged with: felony hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. As their trial unfolded, these young women became global feminist icons, garnering the attention and support of activists and artists around the world. This protest attracted international media attention and support from the likes of Peter Gabriel, Sir Paul McCartney, Madonna, Bjork and Aung San Suu Kyi.
Following the trial, Nadya, along with Masha, and Katya, were imprisoned for 2 years in Russian labor camps. On December 23, 2013, Nadya was released from prison a few months before her scheduled release and just before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Her imprisonment brought Pussy Riot into international headlines and subsequently put a spotlight on Putin’s presidency.
Shortly after her release in December 2013, she announced the opening of Mordovia office of Zona Prava, a prisoners’ rights NGO, and in September 2014 started the independently owned independent news service, MediaZona, which has since partnered with The Guardian. She has spoken before the U.S. Congress, British Parliament, and has appeared on stage with world leaders including Bill Clinton. In November 2014, she met with Julian Assange in London and became a board member of his Courage Foundation. Tolokonnikova is a Lennon Ono Grant for Peace recipient and performed the Pussy Riot song “Refugees In” as part of Banksy’s Dismaland exhibition.
In 2015, Tolokonnikova and her Pussy Riot bandmate Maria Alyokhina appeared as themselves in Chapter 29 of House of Cards, a popular American television drama series that airs on Netflix. In the show, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina heavily criticized a fictionalized version of Vladimir Putin for corruption, while dining in the White House.
In early 2016, Pussy Riot’s music video “Chaika” became the national focus in Russia as it exposed corruption and brutality. Most recently, Nadya has produced and starred in three new Pussy Riot music videos – “Straight Outta Vagina”, “Organs” and “Make America Great Again” – which portrayed the future of the USA under President Trump. These 3 music videos were released in October as part of the Pussy Riot EP xxx.