Combining striking visuals with a strong message Layla Sailor’s response to Pussy Riot has been causing a stir. Her posters have a resonance and a beauty which evokes something which is both simple and thought provoking. We wanted to know more about the girl behind the aesthetics and we were not disappointed…
POSTERS DESIGNED IN SUPPORT OF THE RUSSIAN ACTIVIST BAND PUSSY RIOT & IN COLLABORATION WITH WWW.FREEPUSSYRIOT.ORG
available to buy from www.kokoshnik.bigcartel.com. ALL proceeds from poster sales go to the Legal Defense Fund
What is it about Pussy Riot that has inspired you to respond?
My friend Ian Roberts introduced me to them in January after he had heard about them and the Red Square performance, I was collating work based on the theme of Russia at that time and he thought I would be interested in them.
I really loved the pure audacity of the performance along with their aesthetic, I used to really love Chicks on Speed and the Slits and they reminded me of that feminist humour. I think sometimes the humour of feminist art and music is forgotten about. After that I just got a bit obsessed and followed any news on them. I was planning a shoot based on them around the time I heard they had been arrested.
Recently I became more and more horrified by how serious the sentences were beginning to look. It occurred to me that that the imagery I already had could really help get awareness across. I really believe in the power of visual communication, and felt very strongly about representing the cause properly. I even emailed Robert Lieber to approve the designs and to ask permission to publish them.
The images you have created are very striking- did you take any inspiration from the aesthetic of Pussy Riot?
The images had already been created for my ‘Kokoshnik’ body of work, but I felt that these two images were so relevant.
The model (Rose) has such an unforgettable face, that I had wanted her to represent bravery, feminism, and the beauty of religious iconography warped, smothered and manipulated by political corruption, so in that way they inspired the final poster. I definitely took inspiration from their colour schemes!
Is there a specific reason the face of the woman is covered by words? It seems a very provocative statement!
The text was the hardest part of the poster, I loved the statement ‘Putin Fear No Art’ (from the Free Pussy Riot Now! Page on Facebook), the message was so strong it deserved to be the focal point of the image.
Also the images of the girls in the plastic cell really haunted me, and I wanted the words to act like a cell or a bind. I wanted the viewer to be forced to read it and for there to be no detail around the edges for your eyes to wander to.
The use of the headdress and word ‘Kokoshnik’ taps into a specific Russian tradition – what inspired you to use this symbol?
My interest in Russian culture, the colours, designs, architecture alongside political stages were already something I was exploring with Lisa Stannard, an illustrator and print designer. We wanted to create a piece of work that could explore both of our respective mediums, and reflect something precious and traditional. Her work is very unique and decorative, so I looked into historical decorative folk techniques in Russia and found the Kokoshnik. I love that it is a purely female symbol.
One poster reads ‘Let Our Sisters Go’- do you feel a sense of solidarity to Pussy Riot? If so, why?
As a female artist, you generally feel an affinity with other female creatives, they become like ‘work sisters’ because music/art/photography can be hard businesses to be in at times. I think being brave within your work can take many forms – from choosing to reject commercialism on a small scale to taking on Putin and a whole political system like Pussy Riot have done. As a female artist you can make small or monumental decisions that take guts and conviction, and in that sense I feel a solidarity to them, and feel proud to support them.
The other reads ‘Putin Fear No Art’- do you think that art and creativity can provoke and change government? What do you think it is about these forms which can be so thought provoking?
In art you can be totally free, there are no restrictions placed on you from the beginning and no-one can control your creative thoughts, even if they can try to suppress them.
In that way artists can be very threatening to a dictatorship, as history, especially in Russia demonstrates. I am always struck by the fact that, as an artist, you generally don’t go around trying to be controversial or to create havoc, but you are born thinking that way, and even if you wanted to, you can’t change what you are born with. The more you get closed off, the more you will react to a negative force trying to change who you are and what you stand for.
The images have in themselves an almost religious atmosphere, evoking the idea of the female as a site (in the map) and a stately figure (the crown)- what do you think your are ultimately trying to evoke through the posters?
The contradiction of Russia as a power and an enigma. The historical tradition and beauty of the Russian culture vs poverty and corruption, idealism vs reality, ‘Mother Russia’ as a being with cycles of destruction and creativity. There are a lot of elements that went into the original work that were from my idealism of Russia throughout history.
Nadia’s statement that ‘We are not enemies of Christianity’ really resounded with what I wanted to portray, that there is no hate for the church, just anger towards an authoritarian political machine.