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Monday, April 12, 2021

Pussy Riot shows the cypherpunk power of feminist NFTs – TechCrunch

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It might seem like everyone and their mom is selling a non-fungible token (NFT) these days, but Pussy Riot co-founder Nadya Tolokonnikova is one of the few strategizing beyond the hype cycle.

“I’ve been using cryptocurrency before this,” Tolokonnikova told TechCrunch, noting Pussy Riot members have been interested in blockchain technology since around 2015. “Masha [Alyokhina, Pussy Riot co-founder] had problems with her bank accounts. Whenever she would open one, the government would shut it down because she would use some of her money for protestors. Right now she can’t even have her own credit card.”

Now Tolokonnikova is raising hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ether this month by dropping a four-part series of NFTs for the group’s newest music video, “Panic Attack.” She says these profits will be donated to a clandestine women’s shelter in Eastern Europe, which caters to women who violated social norms.

“Women in this region are still being treated as property. There’s a stigma. A lot of these women are queer or did something like smile at a stranger, things that are associated with shame on the whole family. If we publicized the location of this shelter, it would motivate people to find the shelter and try to destroy it,” Tolokonnikova said. “As an activist, it’s really exciting to see a tool that’s not controlled by any government.”

It might be easy to dismiss this NFT initiative as a publicity stunt for Pussy Riot’s first studio album, “Rage,” scheduled for release in May. Plus, the NFT platform the group is using, Foundation, could censor the group and make it difficult for buyers to view or trade NFTs. Crypto collectibles, and any corresponding cryptocurrency earnings, are only censorship resistant when held in a creator’s personal wallet, not on a private company’s platform.

On the other hand, Tolokonnikova said her “interest in the technology is long-lasting,” and that she’s already exploring ways to utilize crypto tools to subvert sexist power structures. In addition to donating cryptocurrency to activists, Pussy Riot is also sponsoring an NFT scholarship program to cover the Ethereum transaction fees for feminist artists.

“Right now it’s now only for activists and political art works,” she said. “It’s also about educating the Pussy Riot community … we are looking at ways to make NFTs more accessible at a lower price point.”

Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot performs in Birmingham, Alabama. (Photo by David A. Smith/Getty Images)

In the meantime, the group is working on collaborations with other NFT artists like Viktoria Modesta, known for avant-garde fashions for people with disabilities. From Tolokonnikova’s perspective, NFTs offer a way for women artists to gain recognition from the traditional art world. She said that because Pussy Riot focused on performance art and digital art, traditional galleries and collectors rarely took her work seriously. Now, with crypto collectibles, museums and galleries are taking note.

“That is a game-changing dynamic for so many artists who, for the first time in their careers, will be recognized as artists,” Tolokonnikova said. “Before, as part of Pussy Riot, I would use speaking fees or other types of event fees and use that to fund the performance art. I was never paid for the art directly. Now I’m focused on these NFT drops and I’m treating it really seriously.”

While many of the NFT boom’s breakaway stars are white men with traditional credentials and years of professional experience, like Beeple and Trevor Jones, women like Tolokonnikova are a fast-growing segment of the crypto ecosystem. Crypto exchange surveys show women make up roughly 15 to 50 percent of tallied users, depending on the region. Organizations like Metapurse, She256 and Meta Gamma Delta offer some mentorship and funding opportunities for women, as well.

“Metapurse is already doing some of this work, but we want to make our own tiny steps to bring more female and queer artists in the space,” Tolokonnikova concluded. “I think it provides amazing tools for the business of the creators’ market. It’s more than just for art. It enhances a creator’s power.”

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