Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot Goes on a Crypto-Party Crawl

“I’m a super-introvert,” said Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, one of the found members of Pussy Riot, as the elevator zoomed to the Rainbow Room on the 65th floor of Rockefeller Center, where the NFT Now gala was in full swing on June 21.

“But it’s a job. As an activist, you have to do it,” she said of the schmoozing. “You have to put your work out there.”

The doors dinged and slide open. As Ms. Tolokonnikova, 32, strode toward the entrance, the cacophony of hundreds of voices grew louder. “But when I hear all this noise, my heart freezes a bit,” she said quietly, switching to Russian.

She did not pause to collect herself. There was no time. Ms. Tolokonnikova, a musician, artist and activist who goes by Nadya, was in New York to mingle with the crypto crowd at a conference focused on NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. Her schedule Her was packed with discussions, parties, panels and several performances.

Since being jailed for 21 months for performing a guerrilla-style piece called “Punk Prayer” — which protested the government’s cozy relationship with the church — at a cathedral in Moscow a decade ago, Ms. Tolokonnikova has not gotten any quieter about her feelings toward her toward the Russian powers that be.

She was released from prison in 2013, and the following year, she and Maria Alyokhina, another Pussy Riot member who served time in prison, founded Mediazona, an independent news outlet in Russia. In 2018, Ms. Tolokonnikova published a book, “Read & Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism.”

In December, Russian authorities labeled her a “foreign agent,” a category used to suppress opposition figures. (As a result, she does not disclose where she lives.) After Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Ms. Tolokonnikova led an effort to raise $7.1 million in cryptocurrency for medical aid in Ukraine. “Putin is a bloody dictator, a terrorist who must be stopped as soon as possible,” she said.

On Aug. 5, Pussy Riot will release its first mixtape, “Matriarchy Now!” Ms. Tolokonnikova is the lead musician on the album, with the Swedish singer Tove Lo as the executive producer. Collaborators include Salem Ilese, ILOVEMAKONNEN and Big Freedia.

Some of the other well-known Pussy Riot members, like Ms. Alyokhina, who recently escaped from Moscow by wearing a delivery-service uniform, are not on the mixtape. Ms. Alyokhina and others, but not Ms. Tolokonnikova, are performing as part of a multicity antiwar tour in Europe this summer. Ms. Tolokonnikova said Pussy Riot is a loose network with no hierarchy; there are no leaders, and anyone can become a member and use the name as part of their protest efforts.

On this rainy Tuesday in June, however, Ms. Tolokonnikova ‘s presence her in New York was n’t primarily about music. In March, Ms. Tolokonnikova and several partners created UnicornDAO, a fund-raising and investment vehicle built on a blockchain whose goal is to commission and buy NFTs made by women, nonbinary people and members of the LGBTQ community. She had come to New York to raise awareness.

So far, UnicornDAO has purchased more than 1,000 works by artists like Sofia Crespo, Claire Silver and Olive Allen, and raised $4.5 million in funding. The musician Grimes, who is a member of the DAO (it stands for “decentralized autonomous organization”), donated an NFT of her work her to the DAO ‘s permanent collection, and the singer Sia is an active member.

After a quick lunch of seafood spaghetti and a few sips of an Aperol spritz at the Roxy Hotel, where she ran into the DJ Steve Aoki, a friend, Ms. Tolokonnikova bounded over to Spring Studios nearby for brainstorming sessions hosted by ConsenSys, a blockchain software company.

During the cocktail hour that followed, a group formed around Ms. Tolokonnikova, with people asking for her thoughts about her about NFTs and fund-raising, or simply expressing their admiration toward her. She lingered for about 45 minutes, then made a quick exit.

On the way out, a fan requested a selfie. When people ask her for a photo, she said, “they always say, ‘I never do this.’” She paused, then smiled. “That’s what I said when I got a selfie with Bernie Sanders in Chicago,” she said.

Next stop was the gala, where the dress code was “inspired.” Ms. Tolokonnikova showed up in a uniform of sorts: black fishnets, white platform shoes, a short skirt, a ruffled top and finger-less gloves.

She called that day’s outfit “feminist superhero.” The look’s origins stretch back to when Pussy Riot started in 2011, when Ms. Tolokonnikova was 21. “I was thinking that we would be something between Spider-Man and Catwoman and Sailor Moon, and maybe we would be the superheroes that will come and save everyone,” she said.

For about an hour, Ms. Tolokonnikova sipped on a glass of sparkling wine and chatted with guests, including Joe Lubin, a founder of the Ethereum blockchain; the musician Miguel; and Michael Winkelmann, a digital artist who goes by the name Beeple. Mr. Winkelmann famously sold an NFT of his artwork at Christie’s for $69 million last year and is a member of UnicornDAO.

She actually makes me feel lazy because every time I turn around she’s started another DAO or a charity that’s raised, like, $10 million,” Mr. Winkelmann, 41, said. “And it’s like, ‘What did you do?’ I drew a bunch of pictures of wieners or something.”

Ms. Tolokonnikova said she gets along easily with “crypto bros.” “The world of finance is super-toxic and a total no for me,” she said. “Crypto is a bit different. There are bros. Many of them are nerds. I myself am a nerd. We’ve always spoken the same language.”

Growing up in Norilsk, a city in Siberia, Ms. Tolokonnikova said she was the one who helped other students with their homework, in part because it meant they wouldn’t be mean to her. Eventually, she studied philosophy at Moscow State University.

She said she realized the potential fund-raising capability of the crypto world when she sold an NFT for a four-part Pussy Riot video artwork series made in collaboration with several other artists for 178 Ether, or about $356,000 at the time.

“This is life-changing money,” she said. It was distributed among everybody who worked on the project and a portion went to a shelter for domestic violence survivors in Russia, she said. (Today, after the crash, the dollar value of the Ether they earned is significantly less: about $196,000.)

As an activist, she said she has always kept herself abreast of technological shifts like cryptocurrency, blockchain and NFTs because she thinks that these are new tools she could harness while the rules around their usage are still being understood and established.

The final stop of the evening was Bowery Ballroom. When the car pulled up to the club, she dashed in and reappeared minutes later onstage, performing Ms. Ilese’s “Crypto Boy,” a tongue-in-cheek song about getting frustrated with a boy who is talking too much about crypto.

In response to the Supreme Court’s leaked decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Ms. Tolokonnikova’s UnicornDAO created a crypto wallet that makes donating digital currencies to a reproductive rights fund safer, anonymous and easier. The fund UnicornDAO is supporting is funneling money to seven reproductive rights organizations, including Planned Parenthood and Fund Texas Choice. So far, the fund has received more than $87,000 in donations.

Independently, Ms. Tolokonnikova teamed with Ms. Ilese to sell several NFTs of the song “Crypto Boy.” The money they raised, $170,000, went to the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Ms. Tolokonnikova was not shocked by the Supreme Court’s ruling, but she was deeply disappointed. With “Punk Prayer” in 2012, “we loudly declared that the government and religion have no right to get involved in our decisions about our bodies,” she said. “Years later, the country that calls itself the leader of the free world is allowing a ban on abortion. It’s really, really sad.”

“Of course, it’s just a drop in the ocean,” she said of her fund-raising efforts. “But I think that if we all make these drops and unite in one great ocean, then there will be a lot we could change and influence.”

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