Assoc. Opinion Editor
On Sunday, Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky sat outside Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow, on bricks of the Red Square, in the freezing cold. Protesting against the Kremlin’s infringement on political rights and turning Russia into a “police state”, many onlookers watched as he sat on the Red Square, completely naked.
What was different about this protest was the fact that Pavlensky’s testicles were nailed to the cobblestone of the Red Square.
Police eventually came, covered Pavlensky with a blanket, and took him to a medical clinic. He was then transferred to a police station, marking his second arrest in the past few years.
Pavlensky’s display of nudity, grotesqueness, and horror shocked tourists as he hammered a nail through his scrotum on November 10, the date celebrating Russia’s Police Day. On this national holiday, the Russian police are honored for their service.
Pavlensky had written prior to his performance, “A naked artist, looking at his balls nailed to the Kremlin pavement, is a metaphor for the apathy, political indifference, and fatalism of contemporary Russian society.”
He has stated, “As the government turns the country into one big prison, stealing from the people and using the money to grow and enrich the police apparatus and other repressive structures, society is allowing this, and forgetting its numerical advantage, is bringing the triumph of the police state closer by its inaction.”
This has not been the first incident where Russia has seen edgy and provocative demonstrations. Last year, the band Pussy Riot performed inside a Russian Orthodox cathedral, protesting against the reign of Vladimir Putin. Three members were arrested with the charge of “hooliganism”; their sentencing drew the world’s attention to human rights issues within Russia.
Considering that there has been a continuous protest in Russia since 2011, called the Snow Revolution, it’s no surprise that Pavlensky chose to protest the Russian authorities last Sunday. However, I am sure that many readers are offended, intrigued, and even flat-out disgusted by his methods of protesting.
Think about your own emotions in response to Pavlensky’s performance. Do you feel enraged? Appalled? Nauseous? Curious? Or even sympathetic?
No matter how ridiculous one makes Pavlensky’s display out to be, there is one thing he effectively managed to do: grab your attention.
One of the strongest methods of communication when attempting to bring light to an issue is to appeal to the audience’s emotions and to identify with them, called pathos. Aristotle’s concept of pathos was seen in Pavlensky’s protest: he connected the emotions that compose modern Russian society with his and his audience’s.
He was able to show them the intimidation, isolation, discouragement, and alienation that millions of modern Russians must face. In a country where elections are not free, LGBT communities have almost no rights, corrupt and unfair politicians are in power, and citizens are arrested for criticizing their government, something dramatic and outrageous needed to occur in order to seize the world’s attention.
Yes, nailing one’s testicles to the cobblestone of the Red Square can be seen by many as outright disturbing. What is truly disturbing, however, is how Russian citizens are treated in the 21st century by their own government. Through his demonstration, Pavlensky displayed to the world the pain, suffering, and hardships present in Russian society.
Whatever emotions or thoughts you might have had regarding his performance was what Pavlensky was aiming for. It truly was a ballsy move.