Pjotr Pawlenski: An artist between genius and insanity

Petr Andreyevich Pavlensky is a Russian conceptual artist and political activist. At home he's been well-known for awhile but in November 2013, people all over the world learned who he is.  

Petr always wanted to use his art to point to modern society's problems. During his training in mural painting it became clear to him that he wanted to do much more than just express his feelings through this medium.

The first time he made it into the headlines was in July 2012, when he sewed his mouth closed as a protest. He took the extreme action to illustrate the lack of freedom of speech in Russia and call attention to the imprisonment of the punk rock band Pussy Riot

His next artistic act took place in May 2013, as he stripped and wrapped himself in barbed wire in front of a government building in St. Petersburg. His aim was to protest political repression that had, he believed, turned the Russian people into "obedient sheep."

Worldwide fame (and notoriety) followed after his most spectacular action in November 2013. He stripped in the middle of Moscow's Red Square, sat down on the ice-cold ground, and nailed his testicles to the pavement. Later, Petr explained that he was interested in calling attention to the widespread indifference and fatalism in Russian society. Boy did he succeed.

In October 2014, he climbed onto the roof of Moscow's Serbski Institute and — while up there — cut one earlobe off. 

For his last work to date, he set fire to the door of Russia's domestic intelligence service: the FSB. 

After each "art action" Petr has been arrested. At the beginning of 2016 Russian authorities ordered him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. However, doctors were only able to establish that he's totally psychologically healthy, only abusing his body (deliberately) as an "art object."

In the middle of 2016 he was awarded the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize from the Human Rights Foundation for his acts of creative resistance. Unfortunately they later rescinded the award, after Petr apparently supported a violent protest movement in the city of Vladivostok.

Since he kept being threatened with legal action by the government, among other things for an alleged sexual assault on a woman, Petr fled first to the Ukraine. Then finally in January of 2017 he moved to France, where he's been offered asylum.

(The accusation of sexual assault could of course be real. But it's important to note that it's also a well-known tactic by autocratic regimes to delegitimize their opposition; it also puts other opposition members in the uncomfortable position of either having to turn against someone they politically admire or to silence a woman who might really be a victim...)

Many people around the world have been impressed by his "artwork" and inspired by his political message of protest. He himself, meanwhile, says that he's achieved his goal if he's managed to make even just one person think about the subjects he addresses.

What a fascinating and unusual form of art!   


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