Find out why this art-activist is leaving braids of human hair on the St Petersburg metro

Find out why this art-activist is leaving braids of human hair on the St Petersburg metro

2 August 2019
Images: Servernaya

A Russian art-activist hung braids of human hair on a St Petersburg metro carriage as part of a performance calling for stronger laws to fight domestic violence.

Max Otto placed the strands of hair on handrails, leaving the braids to take the place of hanging straps or handles that passengers could use to steady themselves.

Writing on Instagram, Otto said that “no sane person” could ignore domestic violence. He called on the government, who decriminalised domestic assault in 2017, to adopt new laws to fight abuse.

“How often are women grabbed by their hair?” Otto wrote. “These braids hanging from the handrails are a metaphor for violence. Any passenger could come and play the role of attacker if they so desired. It invites people to make an intuitive choice on whether to grab onto these new ‘handrails’ or not: pull them, tear them, do anything with them!”

The topic is a deeply personal one for the artist, who also spoke about his own experiences of domestic violence.

“[My stepfather] was a drunk who loved to raise his hands to women,” he said. “[But] police in the late 90s preferred not to interfere in these ‘family arguments’, or not at least until there were some injuries, like broken limbs or a stab wound. Our neighbours, whom I called for help on the cruelest of nights, did not care. They frowned at the idea of ​​calling the cops, and everything continued in the same old cycle.”

“20 years have passed, but little has changed.”

The Russian parliament passed new legislation in 2017 which removed the charge of “battery within families” — assaults which don’t result in “substantial bodily harm” — from the country’s Criminal Code. The crime is now classed as an administrative offence, with perpetrators only punished if caught by police more than once in 12 months.

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