70 minutes | Aug 11th 2020

Using Art to Create Transformational Experiences – with Stephanie Bell May

Today’s show introduces you to someone who blends her passions perfectly into the artwork that has become her creative outlet. Her story and her life’s work are inspiring on many levels. Join us to learn more. 

Stephanie Bell May is a world-renowned artist and leader in her transformational work called The Art Experience. Stephanie discovered her passion for art as a young girl growing up in Mexico City, where the museums are flooded with a rich history of early and mid-20th century artists with strong political motives, like Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Tina Modotti, and Rufino Tamayo. These masters strongly influenced Stephanie’s vision and played out in her early work. Following years of public exhibition and recognition, she pursued a new visual path where she began to explore issues of female equality and human rights.

In this episode, Stephanie and I talk about how her upbringing in Mexico and her studies in Buddhism and psychology shaped both her early work and her projects today. We also discuss the wild inflection point that transformed her and led to the creation of The Art Experience, and how her own marriage led to the awareness of cultural expectations of her as a woman and the knowing of her own soul in its truest form. 

Freedom

Freedom can mean many different things; the meaning is derived from how cultures value it, and this concept is the overriding theme in Stephanie’s observation and expression. She explains how freedom of expression shows who we are, intellectual freedom gives us opportunities to explore ideas and educate ourselves, and spiritual freedom relates to how we view our existence. Freedom in a different sense means how we find our true selves without social constraints. Stephanie explains that the peace found within that freedom is everything; there is no higher achievement in life. 

You can’t un-wild yourself

Once you know your wild, you can’t go back to being restrained. We are born as an incredible self that is constantly being left behind as we grow and allow society’s constraints to shape us. We are told to speak and act in certain ways that are acceptable within social norms, especially as women. We’ve been told to be less than our true sexual self and less than our true expressive self, along with being quieter, less demanding, and more accepting of the way things are. Stephanie explains how this un – wilding leads to an unspoken unhappiness that many women feel within their lives. 

The ugly truth

When we don’t align with society’s norm, we feel that we either have to rebel or suppress ourselves and conform. It’s a dilemma that we each face. We have to remember our pure self and understand the value of our real, authentic, wild self. Stephanie shares how she and her husband checked all the boxes and hit all the markers for success in life, yet they realized that they weren’t happy and were tired of pretending. Stephanie found herself wanting more than the traditional role of wife and mother, and her husband felt the same way regarding his suppressed homosexuality.

No more pretending

One day, Stephanie’s husband went on a trip and fell into cataclysmic love with another man. Stephanie later observed how they loved each other and never wanted to be apart. She knew their relationship was right, even though it was hard for her to let go of the facade of ideal life and family that they had carefully crafted together. Being gay was her husband’s worst nightmare, and she saw the struggle, trying to help him survive and be happy and fulfilled. Even though she looked at him as her partner and the father of her children, fear and anxiety set in as she faced the questions about why they weren’t the couple that everyone thought they were. 

Handling the chaos

Because her children were still young, Stephanie had to carry on in front of neighbors, friends, and teachers without anyone knowing what was going on inside. Cataclysmic changes were occurring as she entered a time of spiritual, emotional, and mental gymnastics to get to a point of stability. She learned to meditate and use yoga, exercise, and therapy to save herself. It took a dramatic, life – changing moment for her to realize that she had the answers and peace within herself. It was a rebirth and a surrender that became the starting point to remembering who she is as a person. 

Freedom as a sexual being

With her newfound freedom in giving up social constraints, Stephanie decided to experiment with sexuality to find her real, original self. She explored a new way of being by reading books and learning about receiving instead of always giving. Learning to ask for what she wanted and needed in all aspects of life had a healing effect on her soul. Freedom came to Stephanie to explore life and expression in all planes of her life. 

The evolution of art

A complete evolution occurred in Stephanie’s art as her regular life was changing and evolving. She found her voice as an artist in a bold, new way. She threw off social constraints in her art just as she threw them off concerning the expectations in her personal life. As she slowed down the creative process, she found more beauty and fulfillment in the creation of her art. Finding the line between successful art and unsuccessful art, which she attributes to her study of Buddhism,  helped her understand creativity in a new way. 

The role of art for women

Art goes hand – in – hand with creativity, creation, giving birth, and womanhood. It’s all connected, and sexuality is the driving force behind all that we create. Making art becomes an incredible adventure. After all that Stephanie has gone through, her art became the expression of feminine roles, oppression, finding herself, and returning to her wild. 

Highlights of this episode:
  • 3:57 – Freedom: what it means
  • 8:14 – Discovering your wild
  • 19:20 – The ugly truth about who we get to be
  • 27:36 – A cataclysmic love that changed everything
  • 38:15 – Handling the chaos in the aftermath
  • 46:24 – Finding freedom as a sexual being
  • 54:05 – The evolution of art
  • 1:07:48 – The role of art for women
  • 1:15:12 – Fem Five
Resources mentioned:
  • Find Stephanie on Instagram: @SBellMay
  • Visit www.nextfem.com to find out more about Stephanie’s BOGO offer on in-person or Zoom art retreats.
The Fem Five:

1. Favorite book to recommend for women?

  • Infidel: My Life by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

2. Favorite self-care hack?

  • Swimming in the ocean on a daily basis.

3. Best piece of advice and who gave it to you?

  • A Buddhist therapist said that “emotions are like waves; just as easily as they come, they go.”

4. Female CEO or thought leader you’re into right now?

  • AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) and other prominent female world leaders

5. One piece of advice you’d give your five years younger self?

  • “Feel the guilt, but keep going.”
Last Time on The NextFem Podcast

Bringing True Diversity & Inclusion Into the Workplace – with Jennifer Brown

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