But Lopez never shared her experience until more than a decade later, in South Florida, when she began the art and activism movement What’s Your Elephant?, which uses art to create conversations about uncomfortable and taboo subjects. This Friday, Lopez will continue to share her story when she opens her solo show, "These Eyes: A Retrospect Exhibition," at Ali Cultural Arts in Pompano Beach.
“Art for me is a cathartic way of working through [trauma]... Art is healing, and it gives other people permission to share their stories. When we hold on to certain things, we feel isolated, but when we share, we take off the shame that holds us back," Lopez says. "I use art as a catalyst for change, whether it is against molestation, racism, or gender inequality. We cannot change if we cannot acknowledge things that we need to change.”
Lopez moved to Florida to flee harassment from other members of the cult in the early '00s. She says she still receives occasional threats online.
The retrospective will include two of Lopez’s early pieces, including the mixed-media installation All the Pretty Dresses and the video installation Caressed. Lopez cites these projects as the inspiration for What’s Your Elephant?, which includes workshops, talks, gallery shows, and events that engage the public. She wants to help others “acknowledge the elephant and own it so it doesn’t define you.”
In Caressed, Lopez recites a poem in voiceover, addressing the molestation she endured, while fleeting images of her body being painted and manipulated play across the screen. She says, “When people see [Caressed] and All the Pretty Dresses, a lot of the time, they feel that it is a safe space to share something that has impacted them.”
Lopez encourages others who are struggling with trauma or uncomfortable situations to seek help. “Be open to trying to find a way to create an outlet, whether it’s writing, drawing, or singing, as well as doing counseling... There are free resources, like the Nancy J. Cotterman Center in Fort Lauderdale, that help victims of rape and molestation. It doesn’t matter how many years have gone by — that trauma is there to be dealt with, and time doesn’t make it go away,” Lopez says.
“For me, What’s Your Elephant? is a way of dealing with that trauma. It’s tough. It’s hard work. I’m not fully healed. I’m in the process. I’m sharing with others while I’m going through a process myself... Keep trying to find the courage to talk about it, to start the conversation and not give up.”
"These Eyes: A Retrospect Exhibition." Opening reception 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, April 6, at Ali Cultural Arts, 353 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Pompano Beach; 954-786-7876; aliarts.org. The show runs through May 26. Admission is free.