Cleotha Bell was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1975. He studied interior architecture and design at Milan’s Instituto Europeo di Design. During his studies, Cleotha became especially interested in his art and art history courses. Like many artists before him, he was drawn by the abundance of beauty of Africa’s cultures and it’s contributions to the art world. He became increasingly interested in those of tribal markings and scarifications. After finishing his studies and moving back to United States, where he chose Miami, Florida as home, he decided to dedicate more time to his art. Knowing that the subject matter of tribal markings and scars was much more than just body art, he continued to do extensive research to gain more knowledge on the practice. Intrigued by the scaring pattens and practices of such tribes as the Bétamarribé, Ko, Nanumbas, Dagombas, Frafras, Nuer, Bodi, Mursi, Karamojong and many others, he wanted to use his art as a way to pay homage to what for many tribes, was becoming a dying art form.
Tribal markings and scars have significant meanings. Some symbolize beauty, the birth of a male child, fertility, adulthood, bravery, tribal rank and ethnic heritage among others. Never wanting the beauty of this non-verbal language to be lost, Cleotha began expressing his representation of these tribal art forms on his heavily painted canvases using many patterns and designs from these tribes as his inspiration. Understanding and respecting that his paintings could never tell the story of the social skin of these tribesmen, he only humbly wishes to merely create and maintain dialogue and discussion through his work.