Nadya Tolokonnikova

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Nadya Tolokonnikova
Надя Толоконникова
Nadya Tolokonnikova with an elaborate hair style, make-up, and outfit
Tolokonnikova in 2022
Born
Nadezhda Andreyevna Tolokonnikova

(1989-11-07) November 7, 1989 (age 34)
NationalityRussian
Other namesNadya Tolokno (Надя Толокно)
EducationMoscow State University
Occupation(s)Political activist, performance artist
Years active2008–present
Organization(s)Voina, Pussy Riot
Known forProvocative political protests; imprisonment for hooliganism
Criminal chargeHooliganism motivated by "religious hatred"
Criminal penalty2 years imprisonment
Criminal statusConvicted on August 17, 2012, released under amnesty on December 23, 2013
Spouses
John Caldwell
(m. 2024)
(m. 2008; div. 2016)
Children1
AwardsLennonOno Grant for Peace
Hannah Arendt Prize (shared with fellow band-mate Maria Alyokhina)
Websitehttps://zona.media/

Nadezhda Andreyevna "Nadya" Tolokonnikova (Russian: Надежда Андреевна "Надя" Толоконникова, IPA: [nɐˈdʲeʐdə ɐnˈdrʲejɪvnə ˈnadʲə təlɐˈkonʲːɪkəvə]; born November 7, 1989)[1][2] is a Russian musician, conceptual artist, and political activist. She is a founding member of the feminist group Pussy Riot, and has a history of political activism with the street art group Voina.[3]

On August 17, 2012, she was arrested for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" after a performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow and was ultimately sentenced to two years' imprisonment. On December 23, 2013, she was released early alongside fellow Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina under a newly passed amnesty bill dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the Russian constitution.[4]

While jailed, Tolokonnikova was recognized as a political prisoner by the Russian human rights group Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners.[5] Amnesty International named her a prisoner of conscience due to "the severity of the response of the Russian authorities".[6] On December 30, 2021, Russia's Ministry of Justice added Tolokonnikova to its list of "foreign agents".[7]

Early life and education[edit]

Tolokonnikova walking with Pyotr Verzilov (L.) in the June 2007 Dissenters' March

Tolokonnikova was born on November 7, 1989, in the industrial city of Norilsk, Russia, to parents Andrey Stepanovich Tolokonnikov and Yekaterina Voronina.[8] Her parents divorced when she was five years old.[9] In her late school years, she was active in amateur modern literature and art projects, organized by the Novoye Literaturnoye Obozreniye.[10] In 2007, at age 17, Tolokonnikova moved to Moscow,[11] and enrolled in the philosophy department of the Moscow State University.

Career[edit]

Tolokonnikova and Pyotr Verzilov joined the Voina art collective in 2007 and participated in several of their provocative art performances.[12] In February 2008, they were involved in the "Fuck for the heir Puppy Bear!" performance in which couples were filmed engaging in sexual acts in the Timiryazev State Biology Museum in Moscow.[13][14] The performance was said to be intended as a kind of satire of then President Dmitry Medvedev's call for increased reproduction. She was in the late stages of pregnancy at the time.[15]

On March 3, 2008, she was detained by police at a dissenters march in Moscow.[16] Tolokonnikova was among the Voina members who disrupted a trial for the director of the Andrei Sakharov Center in 2009.[17][18] But later, according to the "Rossiyskaya Gazeta", together with Pyotr Verzilov were expelled from Voina "for provocation and surrender of activists of the group to the police".[19]

She also took part in a series of actions Operation Kiss Garbage,[20] (Russian: "Лобзай мусора", roughly translated as "Kiss a pig") from January through March 2011. This project comprised female members' kissing policewomen in Moscow metro stations and on the streets.[21]

Arrest and indictment[edit]

Tolokonnikova at a protest on February 4, 2012
Tolokonnikova at the Moscow Tagansky District Court

Following the "Punk Prayer" incident on February 21, 2012, a criminal case was opened on February 26 against the band members who had participated.[citation needed] On March 3, Tolokonnikova and Pussy Riot co-member Maria Alyokhina were identified by the Russian authorities. They were arrested on March 4 after being accused of hooliganism. They first denied being members of the group and started a hunger strike in protest against being held in jail away from their young children.[22] They were held without bail and were formally charged on June 4 with the indictment running to 2,800 pages.[23] Although this did not ultimately occur, there was speculation that Canadian authorities might attempt to intervene because Tolokonnikova is a Canadian permanent resident.[2][24]

Court case and imprisonment[edit]

The trial of the Pussy Riot members started on July 30, 2012, and ended in August 2012 with a verdict. On August 17, 2012, Tolokonnikova, together with co-members Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich, were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two year imprisonment.[25]

Tolokonnikova was serving the remainder of her two-year sentence in the IK-14 women's penal colony near the settlement of Partsa (Russian: Парца, Явасское городское поселение), Republic of Mordovia.[26] On September 23, 2013, she went on hunger strike over prison conditions,[27] as well as alleged threats against her life made by prison staff.[28][29][30] Her letter on the conditions of the women in the penal colony asserts that the women have no rights, that the prisoners must work 16–17 hours and sleep 3–4 hours a day, and that they have a day off every 8th week. Further, she claims that if they complain, they are punished, and that if they complain over the treatment of other prisoners, they are punished even harder. Claiming that collective punishment is frequent, she also stated that the prisoners may be beaten with a particular focus on hitting the kidneys. Another punishment would consist of keeping a prisoner outdoors in the cold without sufficient clothing. Most of what she reports is affirmed by other sources.[31][32][33]

While imprisoned, she exchanged letters with filmmaker, philosopher, and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek discussing democracy and her activism.[34] Their correspondence was arranged by the French philosopher Michel Eltchaninoff, and their 11 letters were compiled into a short book, Comradely Greetings: The Prison Letters of Nadya and Slavoj, published by Verso Books in 2014.[35][36]

In late September 2013, Tolokonnikova was hospitalised after going without food for a week.[37][38][39] She was treated in the prison's medical ward; authorities did not release more specific details.[40][41][42] On October 21, 2013, she was transferred to another prison; her whereabouts remained unknown for several weeks.[43][44] On November 5, 2013, it was reported that Tolokonnikova had been transferred to IK-50, a prison located near Nizhny Ingash, approximately 300 kilometres from Krasnoyarsk, Siberia.[45][46] On November 15, she was again able to communicate with her husband through a video call from the prison hospital.[47]

Release[edit]

On the afternoon of December 23, 2013, Tolokonnikova was released from a prison hospital in Krasnoyarsk, where she was being treated for an unspecified illness.[48] According to Yelena Pimonenko, senior prosecutor assistant of the Krasnoyarsk Krai, Tolokonnikova was released because the article "hooliganism" of the Russian Criminal Code falls under the newly introduced amnesty bill.[4] Putin's amnesty was seen by the freed prisoners and numerous critics as a propaganda stunt,[49][50][51] as Russia prepared to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in February.[52][53]

About this, Tolokonnikova said: "Releasing people just a few months before their term expires is a cosmetic measure ... that includes the case of Khodorkovsky, who didn't have much time left on his prison term. This is ridiculous. While Putin refuses to release those people who really needed it. It is a disgusting and cynical act",[54] and urged countries to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics.[55] She and Alyokhina said they would form a human rights movement for prison reforms.[49][52] On March 6, 2014, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were assaulted and injured at a fast food outlet by local youths in Nizhny Novgorod.[56] After release, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina founded a penal and judicial-themed media outlet MediaZona.[57]

Sochi detention[edit]

In February 2014, Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were detained in Sochi by the Adler Police in connection with an alleged hotel theft. They were released without charge.[58] On February 19, footage surfaced showing Tolokonnikova and the other Pussy Riot members being attacked with nagaikas by Cossacks, who were helping in patrolling Sochi during the Winter Olympics.[59]

2022 Meeting with US State Department[edit]

Tolokonnikova meeting with Ned Price and Antony Blinken of the State Department

Tolokonnikova met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss freedom of press worldwide, and in particular the future of independent media in Russia, such as Mediazona.[60] Maria Zakharova, Spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, reacted to this meeting on her official Telegram channel.[61]

Works[edit]

In 2016, she wrote the autobiographical book How to Start a Revolution, published by Penguin Publishing Group.[62] Between 2018 and 2019, Tolokonnikova wrote music for and toured with the musical production Riot Days, based on the book of the same name by Maria Alyokhina.[63] In 2018, her book Read & Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism was published by HarperCollins.[64] It includes a reading list curated by Tolokonnikova of 123 books, articles, and tracts on protest theory.[65]

In 2022, Tolokonnikova founded Unicorn DAO, a collector's decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) dedicated to collecting and incubating non-fungible tokens created by female, non-binary, and LGBTQ+ artists in Web3.[66][67] The organization's goal is "rebalancing the scales for women-identifying and non-binary artists in a space that is already reflective of problematic gender norms".[68] Unicorn DAO was launched following her work on Ukraine DAO, which raised $7M in crypto for Ukraine at the start of the Russo-Ukrainian War.[69][70]

On the Russian wanted list[edit]

In late March 2023, the Russian Interior Ministry put Tolokonnikova on their wanted list and opened an investigation against her for allegedly having insulted religious feelings of believers.[71][72] On Nov 21, 2023, she was arrested in absentia by a Moscow court.[73]

Personal life[edit]

Tolokonnikova was previously married to Pyotr Verzilov.[74][75] They have a daughter, who was born in 2008.[76]

Tolokonnikova became vegan in 2022.[77]

On January 12, 2024, she married John Caldwell in a "gopnik" themed wedding, with IC3PEAK among the performers and Riley Reid as a guest.[77]

Awards and honors[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

A documentary following the Pussy Riot court case, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, debuted at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.[99] 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 (the character, Russian president Viktor Petrov, played by Lars Mikkelsen) for corruption, while dining in the White House.[100]

An interview between Jessica Williams, Phoebe Robinson, and Tolokonnikova was featured in a November 2016 episode of the podcast 2 Dope Queens.[101] That same year, Tolokonnikova also appeared on a remix of the track "Jacked Up" by Weezer on the deluxe edition of their eponymous album.[102] In 2021, Tolokonnikova appeared on the track "Stop Making Stupid People Famous" by Our Lady Peace. It was released as a single on YouTube. She also sang some lyrics.[103][104]

Books[edit]

  • Tolokonnikova, Nadya; Žižek, Slavoj (2014). Comradely Greetings: The Prison Letters of Nadya and Slavoj (paperback ed.). Verso. 112 pp. ISBN 978-1781687734.
  • Tolokonnikova, Nadya; Alyokhina, Maria (2016). How to Start a Revolution (hardcover ed.). Penguin Press. 112 pp. ISBN 9781594206849.
  • Tolokonnikova, Nadya (2018). Read and Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism (hardcover ed.). HarperOne. 256 pp. ISBN 978-0062741585. Also published as Rules for Rulebreakers: A Pussy Riot Guide to Protest.

References[edit]

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