Is This Australian Street Artist Paying Homage to Pussy Riot?

A sculpture recently installed on Macquarie Street in Sydney’s business district titled “Australia Was Stolen by Armed Robbery” broaches the sensitive topics of crime, race relations, and political maneuvering. By placing a ski mask hood over a bust of British explorer James Cook, artist Jason Wing says he was making a reference to the repossession of aboriginal territory by invaders from the West. At the same time, the mask could also be read as an homage to Pussy Riot, the all-female art collective recently convicted of hooliganism in Russia who are famous for their face-concealing balaclavas.

None of this is explicit. In his statements to the press, Wing has talked mostly about the after-effects of colonial exploitation, which he believes affect civil society in Australia to this day. “Australia was stolen from the aboriginal people by lethal force,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald when asked about the work, adding that “racism and criminal behaviour by the Australian government is alive and well.”

And yet the resemblance to the Russian art troupe’s now-famous costumes is striking. With all the references to Pussy Riot and their tactics in the mainstream press — ranging from the oblique (models wearing ski masks in a recently-pulled ad for IKEA furniture) to the obtuse (thanks for joining us, Madonna!) — it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to suspect the fellow liberally-inclined artists are on Wing’s his mind.

— Reid Singer