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Tucson Humanities Festival kicks off with presentation by Pussy Riot artist

Pussy Riot's Nadya Tolokonnikova opens up the Tucson Humanities Festival at The Rialto Theatre on Oct. 3. The festival goes from Oct. 3 to Nov. 7. 

The 2017 Tucson Humanities Festival kicked off at the Rialto Theatre Oct. 3 with the presentation of "Punk Prayer: Pussy Riot’s Fight for Global Freedom of Expression," with the speaker being none other than Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot herself.

Tolokonnikova, a native Russian, is a political activist and conceptual artist as well as founder of art collective Pussy Riot. Pussy Riot garnered global attention in 2012 following Tolokonnikova's arrest in Russia after an anti-Putin performance, for which Tolokonnikova received two years in prison.

RELATED: College of Humanities hosts month-long festival

The presentation attendees were excited to see Tolokonnikova and eager to hear what she had to say.

“I just wanted to participate in some of the programs offered by the university and keep my mind active,” said Bill Lucas, a semi-retiree attending the event.

Keeping minds active was exactly what Tolokonnikova promoted. She discussed various subjects — political, feminist and personal.

“I’m studying Russian, so one of my professors asked me if I’d like to volunteer here, and I’ve heard about Pussy Riot for years, so I’m just trying to meet Nadya, see what she has to say and get some info about her story and her life,” Hannah Parraga, a Russian major, said.

Megan McNaughton, a recent University of Arizona graduate with degrees in global studies and Russian, said she came to the event because she loved the Russian department and studied Pussy Riot while she was in college.

“I really just want to hear what [Tolokonnikova] has to say and really get a better understanding of why she does what she does, what exactly is the reason behind her resistance to the Russian government," McNaughton said. "And [I'll] hopefully hear more about how she defines global expression and how she expects us to take that into account in our own lives.”

As part of her presentation, Tolokonnikova repeatedly urged her audience to strive to make changes and step up for what they believed in. She stressed that the powerless do have power and the ability to make a difference.

“Change is much more doable than we are taught to think,” Tolokonnikova said.

Tolokonnikova also discussed politics in both the United States and Russia and spoke about her time in prison. She described the hardships of prison and how she stayed inspired throughout her time there. She had a kind and soft-spoken demeanor throughout her presentation. The audience often applauded frequently during her speech and following Q&A.

RELATED: Guest letter: Tucson Humanities Festival explores Resistance & Revolution

One of the most frequently asked questions during the Q&A was whether it was possible for anyone to join Pussy Riot. Tolokonnikova, in turn, answered that this was absolutely achievable for anyone who wished to do so.

“I came here because I believe in social justice and equality for all and economic justice," said Charlie Taylor, a disability advocate who attended the event. "I also believe in just loving people and caring about people. ... Everyone needs a big hug. The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

This Oct. 3 presentation was only the beginning of the Tucson Humanities Festival, which is hosted by the UA College of Humanities. The festival will continue with events throughout the next month. You can mark your calendars with their events found on the festival website.


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