Warrior Woman: Niki Lopez speaks her truth through art

Posted on 03 July 2019 by LeslieM

By Rachel Galvin

Niki Lopez

That which tried to break her only made her stronger. Battered and scarred, her body has suffered the blows. Her will has suffered the abuse, but she has emerged a warrior in more ways than one, expressing her truth through art in the hopes to help others. Like the Japanese art of Kintsugi, she has been broken but put herself back together, scars and all, and has revealed herself to the world … Indeed, Niki Lopez has a tale to tell and she does it as often as she can. She is the elephant in the room that no one wants to discuss. But you would never know it by giving her a cursory glance.

The first impression of Niki, with her magenta braids and shining smile, is only that this is a girl you want to know. Friendly, talented, charming all describe her but, when you get to know her story, you realize she is much more. You realize you can add words like brave, hero and survivor to that list.

A slideshow showing a piece of Niki’s artwork — a sculpture inspired by the Japanese art of Kintsugi.

You may have seen Niki’s story in People Magazine. The front page has her picture in the top right hand corner teasing to the article, telling you that her story is about how she escaped from a child sex-cult. It was also featured on TV on Investigation Discovery.

At an event on May 30 at the Pompano Beach Cultural Center, she told the audience more about her journey. At age 11, she and her brother and sister were taken by her mother to join a cult, the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors. There, men and women were separated, and the children were put into age groups. She was exposed to physical and later sexual abuse by the leader of the group. When she finally was able to escape at age 25, she was malnourished, lacked proper schooling and only weighed 100 lbs.; she had nothing and had no idea where to go. When she left, she wanted to leave and never go back, not think about it and try to build a new life. But when she tracked down her biological father, he said that she needed to go back and save the other children, including her siblings … and she did just that. Not only that, but she worked with the FBI to put the leader of the cult away. He is still serving time. The FBI gave her a humanitarian award for her efforts.

But these actions caused a toll on her, not only having to relive her tale, but because she still is receiving ridicule and threats from people. It has not been easy, but she has persevered and, today, she speaks about the ordeal hoping to help others who have suffered abuse by letting them know they are not alone, and also that it is OK to share their own stories. It took many years for her to be able to speak about it, but now she conducts “What’s Your Elephant?” events to encourage people to discuss or artistically communicate their “elephant,” the thing people don’t want to talk about that affects their lives.

Sheila Alexander & Grecia Garrett, of FeminAfrika, drummed world music at Niki’s event, May 30, at the Pompano Beach Cultural Center.

She also does a lot of mixed media artwork, graphic design and filmmaking as well, including being involved with the award-winning all women (mostly LGBTQ) film team 1310 Bandits in Ft. Lauderdale.

As part of her presentation, she showed a powerful short artistic film she did called “Caressed.” In it, she is artistically lit, dimmed, shadowed, standing naked with fishing line wrapped around her body being tugged by hands on each side, causing marks on her body, rippling of skin, yanking at her mouth, disfiguring her – all physical manifestations of the feelings she has felt inside of what it is like to be manipulated and forced to do things against her will. Over the images is a poem she wrote focused on a traumatic memory from her experiences in the cult.

She has become well-known in the LGBTQ community. She was just made Grand Marshal of the Wilton Manors Stonewall Pride Parade, in which she rode in a car alongside her girlfriend, and was recognized as the ‘Future of Advocacy.’ The duo just worked on producing a performance called “I’m Coming: A Performance Project” featuring stories of coming out by members of the community, presented at The Vanguard theater. She is also one of the co-founders of Artists for Black Lives Matter. She also has started her own online broadcast on Facebook live called The Circle in which she often interviews local activists, social entrepreneurs and creative sorts. It is on every Tuesday from 8:30 to 9 p.m. on http://facebook.com/nikilopezcreative. She has even been a curator and taught art.

At her event at the cultural center, she had two women – Sheila Alexander & Grecia Garrett, from FeminAfrika, drumming world music as a precursor to Niki’s talk, which included a slide show showcasing some of her art, her film and pictures from some of her events and workshops. The event was emceed by spoken word poet Eccentrich, who said the center is three years old now and that Niki’s performance was part of a series called “Montage,” which focuses around film. This was the 5th installment. She talked about other local centers that people may want to check out, including the nearby Bailey Contemporary Arts (BaCA), Ali Cultural Arts and the Blanche Ely Historical Museum.

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