Art on the Street: KJ Anderson, From Cults to Murals
of Miami's creatives are transient, showing up on our shores and
disappearing as quickly as the tides. The Art on the Street series will
document this overlooked and ever-changing element of South Florida
Anderson says people are surprised when they hear her story. Her
Jessica Rabbit-like hips and ass, blue-black dyed hair, and her
enthusiasm for the night life may make it difficult for some to believe
that she escaped the confines of a Nebraska-based Baptist cult just
three years ago, at the age of 32. But it doesn't come as a shock to me.
It shows when she speaks, as her wide-set brown eyes contract in an
infinitesimal wince. She dutifully tells me, a stranger and a
journalist, things so revealing and painful, most would reserve them
only for carefully selected confidantes.
Now she's perched at the top of a ladder painting flaming vodka
bottles on a wall on northeast 24th avenue. She's used plumber's caulk
to adhere empty plastic vodka handles cut at odd angles to the wall as
well. The piece was requested by the wholesale liquor distributor who
owns the building she's adorning. Watch this video to meet Anderson and
learn why she paints.
Anderson was born in a small town in Nebraska in an isolated Independent Fundamental Baptist
society, and until 3 years ago, she had never left. Women were required
to wear modest, long-sleeved dresses, blouses, bobby socks, and tennis
shoes, and to keep their hair long. There was no television. There was
no music. Strangely enough, she was allowed to attend public school
until she was in eighth grade, but it was actually a relief when she was
pulled out to finish her education "on the compound."
"It was kind of good, because we were no longer subject to the people on
the outside making fun of us," Anderson says, still painting. "It was
hard for us to be in a long dress and look the way we did in a normal
society. People look at you like you're an alien. They want to torture
you, taunt you, throw stuff at you, call you names. So I'm used to that.
I'm used to people wanting to attack you for different reasons."
Quasi-arranged marriages were common in the cloistered society, one tradition she was not able to escape.
I was 21, I wasn't chosen by anyone who was a single male at the time,"
she says. "That's kind of been an issue throughout my whole life. I've
never felt like the person who's been really chose. Chose to be
someone's wife or chose to be someone's girlfriend. I've always felt
like I'm either the second choice, or the one that's not quite good
enough," she says.
Then her ex-husband came along. The one big snag was that he was eight and a half years younger than Anderson.
ex-husband, his choices for a wife were kind of limited," she begins.
"It kind of comes down to this: If you only had three girls to choose
from, and we go into a building and pick the first three women, guess
what? Maybe none of them are pretty. Maybe all of them are pretty. But
there still is not much choice. But even though I was a lot older, he
was like, 'Why can't I like that one?' Because I was the best looking of
what was left," she says, casually speaking of the whole process as
though it had been a horse auction.
said their vows, the two lived together under platonic conditions. They
became close friends, and found common ground in their rebelliousness
and their desire for life beyond the cult.
knew that I was going to escape. He believed, like me, that things
weren't right. He knew that our marriage was not what a marriage should
be. It was like living with your brother. We were friends, but the
thought of whatever comes with marriage was so disgusting. We don't have
kids, which is a good thing. But when I ran away I was on my own for
six months when he got kicked out for disobeying the rules. Like trying
to date a girl on the outside, which of course is a no-no. And I think
he was smoking cigarettes."
She connected him
to friends she had met while studying massage in Omaha, and they helped
the ostracized young man to fulfill his lifelong dream of joining the
army, Anderson said.
"So both me and him, we
faced the same struggle. We're both trying to do these good things.
We're both trying to be helpful people. He's trying to protect the
country. And I'm trying to like be somebody that people can look up to.
We will accomplish these good things. But our families are still gonna
look at us and shake their heads and say, 'They're doing wrong. They're
gonna die and go to hell.'"
has completely disowned her. She says she continually sticks her neck
out to meet people in hopes that she'll stumble upon good ones. She got
the gig painting the walls of these buildings from a friend she met out
on the nightlife scene in South Beach. But other times, as one might
expect, her experiences have been less than stellar.
do like to go out," she said. "I don't like to drink that much, because
I like to watch. It's your biggest opportunity to see a lot of people
and meet new people. People I meet, that's all I have right now. That's
all my family. People I grew up with, I can't call family anymore. I
take a chance sometimes. You take a chance and talk to people and make a
new friend sometimes, and I've been burnt, several times. But there's
amazing people out there, and I like to find that. There's still people
out there, that, when they say they're going to do something, they do
it. And that's what I look for."
Follow KJ Anderson's artwork on Twitter at QueenOfTheArts.
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