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For Tamara Bell, everything begins with tobacco and sacred medicines. Harvesting sacred plants, marinating them in water, mixing them with acrylic paint and sometimes small amounts of sage and peyote initiates her creative process. Ms. Bell’s artistic preoccupation is with addressing historical moments in Indigenous history.

Fond of combining unconventional materials, subject matter and composition, Ms. Bell's repurposing of dollar bills is a recurrent element in her body of work. Here, the altered five-dollar bills—on which one would normally expect to see a picture of Abraham Lincoln—feature images that she has added, images of proud Indigenous people with a striking red hand across their faces. This is done with the express intent of making a vivid political statement about the historical relationship that Lincoln had to Indigenous people. Painting a proud Indigenous matriarch over Lincoln’s portrait underscores the societal impact and legacy of his policies, and serves as a form of poetic justice. Every authentic five-dollar bill is painted using a magnifying glass for fine detailing with acrylic paint, and is framed thematically inside a shadow box, each of which contains four to twenty bills.

Rather than conforming to the idea that artists should sign their work with their name, Ms. Bell uses her status card to identify herself as the artist. The system that produced the status card is responsible for monitoring blood quantum—the fraction of ancestors, out of your total ancestors, who are documented as full-blood Native Americans—and thus for controlling Indigenous people.

Ms. Bell’s large-canvas works take up to four months to complete. Her process is meticulous and methodical, and each piece is created using systems of layering and analysis. The sacred medicines and the creative act of painting are transformative for Ms. Bell, and through their combination, her artworks stimulate ethereal conversations about humanity.