Pussy Riot Quietly Honored by Performance Artists

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The most talked-about honorees at East Village performance art space P.S. 122’s Spring Gala Monday night skipped the step-and-repeat, declined to appear onstage, and dodged party reporters. Textbook diva behavior, but in this case, it was a matter of security: Two members of Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot, currently visiting the U.S. to connect with lawmakers and activists, were taking in the evening’s program at the Museo del Barrio, sans balaclavas. They made rare exemplars of the fund-raiser’s theme — “Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History” — but guests and honorees did their best to keep up.

Maggie Gyllenhaal presented an award to Prune chef Gabrielle Hamilton by reading a handful of personal anecdotes off her phone. They included the “sexy terror” of ordering Hamilton's wedding soup on a date with a man who would not become her husband (“some guy I was sleeping with,” she said) and the gas-station-attendant jumpsuit Hamilton wore, while very pregnant, to Gyllenhaal’s engagement party at Prune. Then a few months pregnant herself, Gyllenhaal originally planned to steal the look for her third term. Now, she told the audience, “I don’t know how she peed.”

The nonprofit also honored Kickstarter founders Charles Adler, Perry Chen, and Yancey Strickler, as well as one of the site’s most successful, divisive, and evangelical users: singer Amanda Palmer. Palmer explained to the Cut how she maintains her signature, Weimar Republic brow. “I probably put in less time than the average chick,” she said. “I shave them, which takes under ten seconds, just whoosh, whoosh, and I paint them in twice a day.” She sometimes touches up on the street, in rear-view mirrors of parked cars, and can practically do it blind. “Here,” she says, extracting a brush-tipped eyebrow pen from her ukulele case. She draws an exact replica of her eyebrow on my thigh as quickly and mindlessly as signing autograph.

Dressed in a drag-prom ensemble of rust-colored pants, pirate shirt, and blazer, Palmer performed one song from her Kickstarter album, Theatre is Evil, and introduced Pussy Riot, who provided a statement to be read on their behalf. “Pussy Riot is part of a long line of women who have worked and are working to create a world free from discrimination and censorship; a world without boundaries between countries,” it said.

The Pussy Riot members, who have gone by the Russian words for “Puck” and “Headlight,” were anonymous amid their own standing ovation, as a clothing-optional parade of performance artists (including two small girls in balaclavas) took the stage, waving feminist fist flags and dancing to “I’m Every Woman.”

After, Puck and Headlight milled in the theater lobby, taking photos of other artists, unrecognizable if not for the hovering presence of a handler, interpreter, and small group of admirers. Through the interpreter, they called their U.S. trip “intense” and “interesting,” adding that they missed performing since becoming tied up in the ongoing legal battle surrounding bandmates Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. The Cut asked what they thought of Vladimir Putin’s divorce, which he announced on television last week. They laughed. “We were expecting it for a long time,” Headlight said.

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