Watch: Pussy Riot's anarchistic art hits London

London (United Kingdom): Pussy Riot, the Russian art collective who became the nemesis of President Vladimir Putin after performing a punk protest in a cathedral, are taking their activist message to London with a new exhibition.

The 2012 stunt saw the all-female group hit the international headlines, but resulted in two members serving two years in penal colonies, gaining them notoriety and the support of Western politicians and mega-artists like Madonna.

London's Saatchi Gallery is hosting artwork from the group and other Russian activists in an exhibition entitled "Art Riot", marking the 100th anniversary of the country's revolution.

Political art is as vital as ever in the country, said Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina at the show's press launch ahead of its opening to the public on Thursday.

"Political art is a way to change something," Alyokhina, one of the two members jailed for the 2012 protest, told AFP.

"We didn't expect a prison term, nor attention, you just have to do things and see what happens," she added. "All big things were small at the beginning."

As part of the exhibition, fellow member Nadya Tolokonnikova has recounted her experience in the penal institution through immersive theatre.

Such an exhibition would not be allowed in Russia, said Alyokhina while highlighting Siberian artist Vasily Slonov's work -- a pile of Lenin-era books whose spines have been sculpted into a face.

'Last free person' 

The London show, where each room is dedicated to a different artist, was organised by curator Marat Guelman.

Some critics, and even allies like Putin opponent Alexei Navalny, have dismissed the group's art as "petty crimes for the sake of publicity," but Guelman insisted they had missed the point.

"We want to show an exhibition where the artist is important, not only the art," he explained.

"Especially when politics goes down and there is no free media, the artist has become the last free person, who speaks to government and says truth, and is not afraid."

The reaction of Orthodox Christians to the feminist group's performance at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was also "very important," he said.

"Some were more Orthodox than Christian, meaning 'we will kill this Pussy Riot because they came to the church.'

"Some parts are more Christian than Orthodox, so think there must be freedom. It was very important in helping society understanding itself better."

Among the Pussy Riot works on show are videos of the group's most controversial guerilla performances and giant portraits of the group's founders in their trademark brightly-coloured balaclavas.

Other artists featured include Oleg Kulik, who lived as a "man-dog" in a belief that it embodied the period after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Pyotr Pavlensky, who nailed his scrotum to Moscow's Red Square in a symbolic protest.

While some try to affect change from inside Russia, Guelman said many like him had been forced to leave.

"It was impossible to do exhibitions," he told AFP.

"It was a joke that a lot of talented people were born in Russia, but not a lot died in Russia," he said, adding that the Russian diaspora was now a "very powerful" cultural force.

Despite the limitations, both Alyokhina and Guelman believe Russia can still be the incubator of great art.

"Everything is possible!," said Alyokhina.

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Updated Date: Nov 17, 2017 18:53:19 IST