Free the Pussy! At Summerhall

It is easy to walk through a gallery and ‘not really get it’. The passion and anger at Free the Pussy! is, however, explicit and impossible to misunderstand. This is underlined by the (welcome) absence of labels to be found at almost all other white cube exhibitions – the political, cultural and social interests of these works are clear. Curated by artist London based Tamsyn Challenger and featuring big feminist art names such as Judy Chicago and Yoko Ono, this exhibition offers a fine selection of responses to the shameful fact that we still have to fight for the rights of women, the LGBT+ community and against violent oppression.

Anonymous punk activist collective Pussy Riot broke world headlines in 2011. Members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich were arrested and subsequently imprisoned the following year for their performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in protest against Vladimir Putin’s government and its relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church. International artists responded to this injustice and the silencing of Pussy Riot through the 2013 publication Let’s Start a Pussy Riot. This exhibition is a loud reminder of the pertinent issue of transgressed human rights and duty to fight injustice. Coincidentally, just this week band member and activist Pyotr Verzilov is recovering in hospital after a suspected poison attack while in Russia for a court hearing.

As an exhibition, Free the Pussy! is engaging and thought provoking. Visitors are confronted by Hayley Newman’s ‘Domestique’, a triptych of household cleaning flannels transformed by needlework into flattened balaclava faces.The leftmost flannel is wide-eyed and grinning while the second recalls a Greek tragic theatre mask.The trio is completed by a mocking face that whistles silently. Newman’s flannel faces find their voices in Yoko Ono’s  song and poem ‘Hell in Paradise’. Ono’s potent lines such as “When will we/ come to realize [sic], We’re all stoned or pacified, While the boogie/ men organise [sic]. Their multilevel schemes” adorn Summerhall’s white wall space.

While the exhibition presents a clear and coherent progression for visitors this is disrupted by the fact that some works promised on the Summerhall website were either already removed or locked in a room inaccessible to the public. Nonetheless, Free the Pussy! is open until Sunday 23 September and the two remaining rooms are well worth going to see.

 

At  Sciennes Gallery, Summerhall 

Until 23 September 2018 

Image: Kenya April 

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