Exiled Pussy Riot members pay the price for criticizing Putin

STORÅ, Sweden — The human cost of opposing Vladimir Putin can be found in a squalid, shoebox apartment in Sweden's frigid wilderness. Once among the Russian president's most prominent antagonists, Alexey Knedlyakovsky and Lusine Djanyan are now scraping out a hand-to-mouth existence while trying to raise their boisterous 2-year-old son, Tigran. Both are members of Pussy Riot, the Russian artistic collective known for its punk rock protests against the government. They say they were forced to flee Russia because of threats from Putin's security services as they clamp down on dissent and dissidents. With Putin expected to win another presidential term — his fourth overall — in a largely uncontested election next month, Djanyan and Knedlyakovsky are claiming asylum in Sweden. "We were not given the opportunity to live normally," Djanyan says, recalling their treatment in Russia as her husband and son play on the toy-strewn floor behind her. "We were harassed, pressed, threatened using various methods — psychological as well as physical." The couple say their life as outcasts is the price they pay for joining Pussy Riot. The group made global headlines in 2012 when four members performed a "punk prayer" in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. They criticized Putin, the clergy and Russia's poor record on LGBT rights. Pussy Riot has had more than a dozen members over the past seven years but only a handful have ever taken off their trademark colorful balaclavas. Knedlyakovsky and Djanyan are among its activists who have been beaten and detained after criticizing Putin, a man Djanyan calls "a catastrophe" for Russia. But the pair never wanted to leave their homeland. "Russia is our country," says Knedlyakovsky, who wryly acknowledges being the only male member of the group. "It's our motherland. We miss Russia." Everything changed last year when they say undercover authorities approached them when they were with Tigran. Continue Reading

David Bowie exhibit in Brooklyn surprises with offbeat items

David Bowie is still stunning us, two years after his death. You’ll find things you couldn’t see coming at the massive Bowie exhibit opening at the Brooklyn Museum this Friday — like a roll of wallpaper the pop legend designed. “How many rock stars designed wallpaper?,” said the show’s co-curator, Geoffrey Marsh. “Why on earth would he do that? Bowie might say, ‘Why not?’” After all, Bowie had one of music’s most curious minds. The 1,600 square foot show dedicated to his art — one of the largest exhibits in the museum’s history — highlights that aspect right in its open-ended title. Called “David Bowie is,” there are any number of ways to complete that sentence. During his life, the late star was a musician, actor, video-maker, fashion pioneer, pop culture theorist and all-around shape-shifter. “Bowie meant experimentation,” said Matthew Yokobosky, the Brooklyn Museum’s Director of Exhibition Design. “He was about the freedom to try new things.” There are also, of course, lots of things you might expect: Sketches for iconic costumes he wore, notes for key lyrics he wrote, and designs for pivotal concerts he gave. The exhibit’s New York iteration, which runs through July 15, completes a world tour of a show which originated at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in 2013. Aptly, it originated in the city where Bowie’s career started, and it will close in the one where his life ended. “The show was shaped in the context of an artist who was living,” said Marsh. “In that sense, it’s not a retrospective. It’s about Bowie as a creation.” Linkin Park break record set by David Bowie Bowie died of liver cancer on Jan. 10, 2016, just two days after his 69th birthday. While the star himself approved the original show, he left it to the London curators to flesh it out, taking what they Continue Reading

The Art of Being Foreign

When I hear the children hollering between hillsides, I suddenly get Pennsylvania back in my life. Late one May afternoon, my son stands in the garden of our house outside Turin and yells over to the American kids who have moved in across the valley, three anarchic towheads, whose family comes—it seems significant to me—from my home state. Hey, you guys! Hey! The children’s voices, ringing through woods and vineyards where Roman legions and Napoleonic troops once passed, bring back my own childhood evenings in a Philadelphia suburb, where our shouts had an edge of Arcadian freedom to them, and, as we scrambled through the bushes, the earth leaking shadow into the sky, we always had a sense of territory behind us, all that leaf-colored outback. Pennsylvania is green—not because of its forests or its ecological virtue but because that’s the color with which my synesthetic mind defines that particular state. To me, Maine and Virginia are also green, but the former is a dour Nordic spruce and the latter suggests pea soup. Only the Keystone State—a charmless architectural nickname that also has a certain whimsy—is the proper pastoral shade. I recognize it at once, when in a history text I first read William Penn’s dreamy yet transpicuous instructions for the layout of Philadelphia: Let every house be placed in the middle of its plot, so that there may be ground on each side for gardens or orchards or fields, that it may be a green country town which will never be burnt, and always be wholesome. His green suggests both utopian ambition and the kind of nostalgia for a nonexistent perfect past that Gatsby feels, gazing at Daisy’s green light. It is the green of hope, a color that Benjamin West captures in his iconic painting of the glade beside the Delaware, where Penn and other tricorned Quakers are striking a treaty with the Lenape Indians. It’s the shade that European philosophers see when they first gaze over Continue Reading

Ohio proves to be a great destination for a history- and fun-loving family

The idea sounded good in theory: combine a business trip to the Midwest with a family vacation. Only when I pulled out a map — moments after handing over a sizable nonrefundable deposit on a rental minivan for a week — did the logistics of driving 13 hours from NYC to the Mississippi River hit me. It was going to be a long, boring, tantrum-filled drone on a soulless highway unless I could find an entertaining stop along the way. Luckily, a little research yielded the perfect solution: Ohio. Bisected by the very mundane I-70, we discovered the Buckeye State was full of fun detours for history-loving adults and in-the-moment kids. The first place sounded too surreal to be true: The Wilds (thewilds.columbuszoo.org). The brochure promised a safari-like experience on 10,000 acres of reclaimed mine land in rural Cumberland. Although I doubted a former coal-strip site could convincingly double as the Serengeti, my skepticism disappeared when we found ourselves speeding across a dusty encampment in an open-air, tarp-covered jeep for a two-hour joy ride. When we passed through the wire, double gates to each section — reminiscent, rather chillingly, of Jurassic Park — many of the exotic animals wandered right up to the truck. Some even stuck their heads inside, and we were warned to keep our hands at our sides. “They’re still wild, even though they are used to the tours,” the guide cautioned. The Wilds conservation efforts for species from all around the world were astounding to witness — as were the massive piles of rhino dung. With the hot sun and clear blue skies, and herds of zebra, giraffes, wild horses, antelope and scimitar-horned oryx moving slowly across the landscape like an African dream — not to mention the two lean cheetahs panting in the shade a few feet from us — it was almost possible to believe we’d crossed an ocean instead of a few state lines to get there. We Continue Reading