Review: Pussy Riot’s ‘DARK MATTER’ Series Is an Uncompromising, Exasperated Examination of Authoritarianism & Our Role in Enacting Change

Self-taught artist, musician, and activist Nadya Tolokonnikova (also known as Pussy Riot) debuted her new artwork series ‘DARK MATTER,’ expressing the rage that comes with combating authoritarianism and oppression in these new dark ages.




Politically and culturally, we’re entering the new dark ages, but I believe that better times will come – I believe, because it is absurd.

– Nadya Tolokonnikova, Pussy Riot

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In Nadya Tolokonnikova’s own words: “We are all Pussy Riot.”

In recognition of her self-taught artistry, Tolokonnikova, the creator of Pussy Riot, received the Dynamic Achievements in the Arts Award from the American Folk Art Museum, presented by David Byrne.

She also debuted a collection of art pieces, titled DARK MATTER and performance project, code named PUSSY RIOT – SIBERIA.

“When I say ‘sit’ you sit
When I say ‘crawl’ you crawl
You can make me love you if you
(Hold tight)
You can make me love you if you.”
– “Chastity,” Pussy Riot
Pussy Riot's 'NEW DARK AGES 2024' © Cate Groubert
Pussy Riot’s ‘DARK MATTER’ series © Cate Groubert



Pussy Riot 'NEW DARK AGES, MARY' 2024 © Cate Groubert
“DARK MATTER / MARY” by Pussy Riot

Aside from overt references to Russian politics, there were themes of femininity, non-conformity, and religion – that intersection of (or competition between) individuality and organized institutions so ingrained in society. It felt transcendent of geographical location, especially with banned books becoming normalized in the United States.

The artist mentioned translating performance art into physical pieces for museums. With the latest exhibit, that was possible thanks to a symbolic vial of Vladimir Putin’s ashes. Additionally, Tolokonnikova discussed her creative insight and life outside of activism.

“I’m a hermit. Practically a nun,” she said, smiling. “But I want to uplift that.”

Pussy Riot's 'NEW DARK AGES 2024' © Cate Groubert
PUSSY RIOT – SIBERIA © Cate Groubert



Pussy Riot's 'NEW DARK AGES 2024' © Cate Groubert
PUSSY RIOT – SIBERIA © Cate Groubert

In contrast to those homebody tendencies, Pussy Riot’s music almost mimicked the NEW DARK AGES art series, drenched in hues of black, white, red, and pink. The noise performance was, unironically and unabashedly loud. Indignant. Frustrated. And, to me, relatable.

“For me, Pussy Riot has always been an expression of primal rage that is also informed by my beginnings in the Moscow Conceptual Underground,” the musician added in a press release. “I will be channeling that rage into a metaphysical system of punishing sound waves, pure and transcendent.

The performative activism didn’t go unnoticed, too, with Tolokonnikova mentioning attendees sipping prosecco in the same breath as a hunger strike that led to her being sent to a Siberian penal colony. It felt icky, for lack of a better word, to not have cared more about causes that matter to me.

Pussy Riot 'NEW DARK AGES 2024' © Cate Groubert
Pussy Riot ‘DARK MATTER’ © Cate Groubert



Are good intentions enough to compensate for not hosting a gig outside Moscow’s main Orthodox cathedral? Or any form of potentially life-threatening activism, for that matter?

Tolokonnikova shared an anecdote about being in prison and choosing to remain passive for the sake of other inmates. In her silence, conditions worsened. It wasn’t until the artist penned an open letter that her situation gradually improved — she explained to the audience that guards were “too scared to piss [her] off.”

That might not be the best course of action for everyone, but Tolokonnikova’s unapologetic art, and just everything she stood for, was more than inspiring. Even for the infant who attended with their mother despite her being on maternity leave.

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Pussy Riot & David Byrne © Cate Groubert
Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova and David Byrne © Cate Groubert



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