Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has said that she has long been inspired by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and even discussed his works with fellow prisoners during her time in a Siberian jail. “I used to talk to the other women about Ai Weiwei and explain to them what contemporary art is,” said Tolokonnikova said at the Prudential Eye Awards in Singapore last weekend, The Art Newspaper reported. In October 2012, both Pussy Riot and Ai Weiwei made it into Art World magazine's annual list of the 100 most influential figures in the art world.

Tolokkonikova want on to say: “Nobody knows what contemporary art is [in Russia]; the problem lies with the state.” Tolokkonikova and Maria Alyokhina, the other member of Pussy Riot, were both jailed for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred last summer after performing an anti-Kremlin punk prayer in a Moscow cathedral in early 2012. The pair were at the Prudential Eye Awards after a recording of their performance, Mother of God, Put Putin Away (2012) was nominated for a prize in the digital art/video category.

Alyokhina added that state support only existed for artists that supported the government’s agenda. She said: “This pushes people away from the mainstream to the underground. Nobody can work ‘officially’ as an artist, including Pyotr Pavlensky.” In an anti-government protest, in November 2013, Pavlensky nailed his scrotum to the paving stones in Moscow’s Red Square.

On their nomination, Tolokonnikova said: “Being nominated for the award means our work has been accepted and its influence in the international arena has been understood. Our work is not just the piece but how the world reacted to it; the reaction was also the work.” 

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were freed on 23 December under a state amnesty. Since then, they have been campaigning for prisoners’ rights. Tolokonnikova said: “We want to defend the rights of inmates against the [prison] administration. The prison system is corrupt and non-transparent.”