The Russian government has cited an NFT as evidence for criminal charges against Pussy Riot relating to “hurting the religious feelings” of the people of Russia, according to a press release issued by the group on Wednesday.
Artist and activist Nadya Tolokonnikova, better known as the face and voice of Russian feminist protest and performance art group Pussy Riot, has been added to a list of wanted individuals by the Russian Interior Ministry, the Associated Press reported.
Citing Russian news outlet Mediazona—an independent news service and media outlet that Tolokonnikova co-founded—the wire service noted that offending religious citizens became a criminal offense in Russia after a Pussy Riot protest in 2012. The Associated Press said that it reviewed the entry for Tolokonnikova in the Russian Interior Ministry database.
The NFT in the latest case, titled "Virgin Mary, Please Become a Feminist," depicts the Christian icon framed in what the criminal citation describes as "anatomical details of the female external genitalia," according to a translation provided by Pussy Riot. The drawing is superimposed over a scan of Tolokonnikova's arrest papers from the 2012 incident. Pitchfork reported that it reviewed translated court documents that mention the NFT in question.
That protest, titled "Putin's Ashes," was staged in a Moscow church and was captured in a short film. Pussy Riot was charged with "hooliganism," and Tolokonnikova spent more than two years in a prison camp.
Finding its "hooliganism" law inadequate, Russia enacted a new law that adds the religious component and that Tolokonnikova says is better known as the “Pussy Riot Law." It is under that law that this latest criminal case is being pressed.
"Any truly political artist risks their personal safety for the sake of their art—it is not a new concept for me," Tolokonnikova said in the release. "But maybe the first time art from an NFT is being used as evidence to try to throw someone in jail."
The activist says this latest action appears to be triggered by her most recent art exhibit, "Putin’s Ashes," which debuted at the Jeffrey Deitch gallery in Los Angeles in January and closed early last month.
"We captured the performance of burning Putin’s effigy and collecting and selling his ashes—he probably didn't like that," Tolokonnikova wrote. "I guess we got enough attention to scare him as we rallied allies in the west who were willing to stand up to Putin and also to aid Ukraine."
Although her friends and family were detained by police in the last few weeks, she says that she's not scared.
"I will use the tools I have as an artist and crypto enthusiast to keep fighting," she said. "I’m not a soldier, I’m an artist. Art is my weapon.”
A veteran artist activist, Tolokonnikova has successfully tapped decentralized technologies to amplify her impact. She co-founded UnicornDAO in March 2022 and raised over $4 million to to support marginalized artists and underrepresented groups in Web3, and in June, protested in support of reproductive rights in Texas.
But the largest target of her ire continues to be Russian President Vladimir Putin and his war on Ukraine. She was key to the launch of UkraineDAO, which sold an NFT of the Ukrainian flag for more than $6 million to support Ukraine's resistance and relief efforts.
"We raised even more funds for a frontline unit in Bakhmut with an open edition NFT drop with Shepard Fairey," she notes. "We sent funds on the ground to Ukraine, we saved lives in the first few days of the war."
"They threaten us but we cannot show fear," Tolokonnikova added. "Glad to see they are scared.”