Artist Katie Pfeiffer’s FREE PUSSY RIOT Painting Sparks Controversy & Censorship

Greater Philadelphia area artist Katie Pfeiffer creates spirited, colorful paintings, drawings and mixed media work, with a strong, often intensely personal point of view.

Last month, when she created her “Free Pussy Riot” painting on her front door, she had no idea the controversy it would cause. The glass screen door has long been a high-visibility place to display her work.

But, this time around, a few weeks after the Pussy Riot painting went up, the Narberth, PA police came knocking on the door. I had the opportunity to interview Katie about what happened next.

Katie Pfeiffer - Free Pussy Riot - Censored Painting
Katie Pfeiffer’s FREE PUSSY RIOT painting, which was censored. See below for the same image, post-censorship.

What inspired the Pussy Riot painting?

After seeing the story on the news, I was inspired to make a drawing of my feelings about PUSSY RIOT being jailed in Russia. I had started making window art in the spring. I have a large glass door, and it just seemed like a cool place to make art. Initially I started drawing hamsas and evil eyes as a protection ritual for the house; slowly, the drawings have evolved. The previous drawing I made was of my dog as Satan because she is kind of demanding and devilish. I saw the video of Pussy Riot wearing color ski masks while performing their 30 second punk rock piece in the Orthodox church before getting arrested. This inspired me to make the drawing of the women, depicting them with colorful cat heads and naked bodies.

I understand that the police came to your door. Tell us the story of what happened. What did they say, and what prompted the complaint?

The day the police came to my door was on Saturday, September 15, 2012 around 3 p.m. I was upstairs taking a nap, and heard loud pounding at the door. My chihuahua started barking. My housemate answered the door, and I heard him talking outside to someone. Several minutes later I got up and went downstairs. My housemate said “You’ll never guess who that was.” I thought it was someone we knew. He said, ” It was the police, and you know why they banged on the door? Because of your art. Someone complained to the police.”

He explained that the police wanted me to cover up the images (their suggestion: “a bikini perhaps?”). My housemate had tried to explain to the police what the artwork was and why it was on our front door. One of the officers had never heard of Pussy Riot or the controversy. The other said he heard something but didn’t know “the story.”

I live across the street from a dance studio that teaches dance to people of all ages. The dance school was in full swing that day (no pun intended) so my housemate and I feel it was a parent walking past the house who called the police.

The funny thing is, you can’t really see the image closely unless you walk right up to our front door. Certainly most children walking past or looking toward the house can’t see it (we have a long walkway). All they would see is a giant colorful crayon scribble mural on glass).

Katie Pfeiffer - Free Pussy Riot - Censored Painting
Katie Pfeiffer’s altered, post-complaint FREE PUSSY RIOT painting, with lips & eyeballs stickers added.
My initial reaction to the police banging on our door was shock, laughter and then anger. I quickly decided to cover up the “offending” female body parts with lips bandages for the nipples and giant glow-in-the-dark eyeball stickers for the pubic hair region.

About an hour later, I saw the police slowly drive by the house and check out the “revised” window. I was outside getting into my car and they waved at me. What is ironic now is that the stickers draw more attention to the nipples and pubic area then the original drawing did!

How do you feel about being asked to remove or alter your work?

It feels really awful to be censored; especially since my art was supporting another group of artist who were jailed because of censorship.

My housemate is furious that the police ended up telling us what images we can or cannot exhibit on our property. I had the drawing up since August 19 and several neighbors had expressed how much they liked it.

This incident with the police has only resulted in my desire to become more political in my creative expression. My work previously has been about my personal life and relationships but I am aware that art is powerful. I will definitely be experimenting more with my window/door art in the future.

See more of Katie Pfeiffer’s art:
Katie Pfeiffer’s website
Katie Pfeiffer at Saatchi Online
Get Katie Pfeiffer designs at Zazzle

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