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Arts & Culture

Art Takes On Religion In Controversial Black Mass

Lovica Reulet and Anna Yanushkevich performing a dance and contortionist piece that is part of the Black Mass.
Lovica Reulet and Anna Yanushkevich performing a dance and contortionist piece that is part of the Black Mass.

Performer sees no difference between performance art and religious ceremony

Art Takes On Religion In Controversial Black Mass

It’s hard to find a clear definition of what a Black Mass is. It has been described as everything from a lurid book written for witch hunters to a parody of a Catholic Church service to a Satanic ritual designed to ridicule Christianity. But for Anna Yanushkevich, the definition is clear: It’s performance art.

"It is to show that all of it is performance art and all of it is art, and we put together this very pretty, interesting little service," Yanushkevich said during a rehearsal break for the mass that will be Friday night at a North Park venue.

She was wearing contact lenses to make her eyes completely black and green, and gold vestments, which she said were orthodox-style. "It’s worn because it’s all theater and it’s all costumes. And hopefully that will help people see that, that you can actually go out and buy vestments and perform a church service and be taken just as seriously or not."

Yanushkevich, who is trained in dance and circus, is attracted to things that may repel other people.

"So my thing is to take things that people are afraid of and dislike, and to make them beautiful and show people that they’re not something that they need to be afraid of," she said.

Like a show she did for San Diego Fringe focused on the medical arts and another involving the ritual of a circle casting. Now she tackles a Black Mass.

"Every time I tell people that I am putting on a Black Mass, they either don’t know what it is or they know what it is and they jokingly will ask if I am going to sacrifice a virgin or kittens or babies or have an orgy at the end. None of those things are going to happen," she said emphatically.

"They should expect to see a church service but also circus and dance and performance. I think people should also expect to be surprised because maybe they thought it was going to be something horrible or ugly, and it’s not gonna be that at all. ... Well, it will be ugly actually, but in the most beautiful way because that’s one of the themes, right? To take something that is hideous and make it beautiful."

As I speak with Yanushkevich, I can hear the other performers singing in Latin. The Black Mass will be in Latin.

"What you are hearing in the background right now is some of the singing that you will hear at the show," she said. "Just like at a church service you would hear the choir singing, we’re doing the same thing. Ours is in Latin, and it is in praise of Satan."

She’s been called sacrilegious, evil and wicked for doing the show, and she’s OK with that.

"I’m not doing this to make anybody be comfortable with it," she said. "I’m doing this to actually make people uncomfortable because that’s where you learn and that’s where you actually question yourself. I want to create more questions, not really answers.

"That’s not the point of this. It’s to create questions, and for people to create questions for themselves and whether or not what they are believing is what they actually believe or something that they grew up being told. And I hope that by doing this service it will encourage more people to look into things that they are afraid of and not just go with the flock and maybe think for themselves a little bit."

Yanuskevich calls her Black Mass an opinion on religion, her opinion. And for her, she sees no difference between performance art and religious ceremony, and that’s likely to prompt strong reactions. But then that’s what art is designed to do.

The Black Mass is at 10 p.m. Friday at an arts and cultural center at 3925 Ohio St. Event information is on Facebook.