Crowned, standing on a pedestal, clad only in sheer flesh-colored panties and a bra, MisSa Blue slowly inserts needles into her arms and legs, then under the skin of her forehead, arching and stretching. Blue then wraps her waist in a piece of latex that she staples just above her hip, and follows that with a strip of latex stapled to her thigh, fashioning a garter. Slowly, as DJ Arisha Fatima Haq plays a mixture of North African and Islamic Asian music ranging from dance to pop to cabaret (all in Arabic, incomprehensible to the majority of the audience) Blue removes the garter and needles, blood trickling, leaving only the latex shirt in place, its metal barbs maintaining the audience’s suspenseful focus.
MisSa Blue’s Black Madonna is a durational piece that in its conception addresses the artist’s vision of the seven sorrows of contemporary women. Last night was only the second time she has performed the spectacle, which she developed and workshopped in Mexico with the performance troupe Pocha Nostra.
Her Sunday night presentation at the Vortex, as part of Ron Athey and Nacho Nava's Dolores — Our Lady of Seven Sorrows — appropriately located on the corner of Olympic and Santa Fe, the union of streets named after athletic events based on devotion to the gods, and the “holy faith” of Catholicism — was like an intense reverse striptease. Blue's manipulation of her body took on multiple meanings. The needles in her flesh radiated light, recalling the rays that emanate from depictions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and by extension the current and immediate issues surrounding incarcerated immigrants from Mexico and Central and South America. This undercurrent was heightened by the vibrant and emotional performance of San Cha, whose set, primarily in Spanish, channeled passion, sorrow and exuberance of both queer and Latin culture — forces that have shaped the underground of Los Angeles for a century.
At the conclusion of San Cha’s performance, MisSa Blue stepped onto the main stage, blood dried on her face and body, and, assisted by Elliot Reed and Kayla Tange, performed her more traditional yet still stunning sword-swallowing act, sliding a series of three swords down her throat, culminating with a glowing rod of red light.
The audience’s recovery time was warmed by another Haq DJ set with movement by Austyn Rich, who gave a strong and complex, though more traditional, dance performance to the stirring tunes, followed by a rare appearance by Little Annie, a legendary singer and brilliant lyricist from New York. Annie's storied career includes her first band, The Asexuals, who played Max’s Kansas City in the late '70s and recorded for the anarcho-punk Crass Records, as well as work with Lee “Scratch” Perry accompanied by pianist Angela Seo.
Our Lady of Seven Sorrows' wide range of performers highlighted a mixture of visions and voices that cut across boundaries and borders, as did the cultural makeup of the audience. While the timing of the show (falling as it did amidst the miasma of our country’s immigration chaos and cruelty) was a coincidence, it was a coincidence that increased the already intensely spiritual and evocative energy of the evening.
The almost psychic aspects of the event were further evidenced by combining Faq’s DJ skills with Blue’s Black Madonna. The two had never worked together yet the DJ spontaneously played selections that flowed perfectly into Blue’s performance, enhancing and complementing the meditative, thought-provoking and sensual aspects of the Black Madonna aura. The ephemeral nature of performance art — once seen, never performed again exactly the same — moves it into the place of epiphany, into a personal and shared experience that transcends traditional theater and visual art. With Dolores, Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, Athey and Nava created a profound and provocative evening, one that will continue to resonate with all who experienced it.