So often when we discuss art, we consider the work as the result of an artist’s gesture or understand the medium as being an extension of the artist’s hand. In founding the Alternative Limb Project in 2011, Sophie De Oliveira Barata turned the conversation on its head and made the prosthetic hand (or leg) the canvas through which to celebrate art and the human form.
Each body is different, presenting its own set of physiological variations. And even with these variations of genetics, we are bound to cult of anatomical normalcy. If given the opportunity- whether it be through choice or circumstance- to create a unique aesthetic for your limbs would you embrace it?
Many of the artists that have appeared in our digital pages cite the influence of science in their artistic practice. Artist Sophie De Oliveira Barata founded the Alternative Limb Project after realizing that art and science had not yet been explored in the field of prosthesis. Why weren’t amputees offered a service that would inspire self-expression through a prosthesis? Barata understood that there are amputees who may want realistic limbs so that they could blend in and re-balance their body shape. But as an artist she felt that she had an opportunity to present an alternative- and create limbs that deviated from the cultural norm of having two natural looking arms and legs. The Alternative Limb Project was born from a desire to offer amputees an alternative choice and is a practice that is deeply rooted in consultation, research and design.
Barata’s process begins by consulting and collaborating with her clients, asking them to collect as many images as possible, ranging in themes from a landscape to a car engine. Next she will go through each image with them and determine what it is exactly that they like- whether it’s the colors, textures, composition or the feeling it conveys. By gathering enough visual data she begins to piece the puzzle together and present them with ideas and initial sketches.
Each limb is bespoke in fit and style. Barata believes in the inherent uniquity of every limb she creates and never replicates past designs. Each piece stands alone as an original work of art. Inspired by the human form, Barata sees prosthesis as canvases through which to create an identity as identifiable as the person wearing it.
British swimmer, motivational/inspirational
speaker and swimming teacher
“I like to be different and I love the fact that having one arm makes me effortlessly different to the majority of people- however, an alternative limb is something entirely different. I wanted people to look at me twice with amazement. Originally I wanted a fish inspired arm (due to my swimming background), although when I thought about it I couldn’t see myself wearing a fish arm out in the places I had in mind, so I went with snakes. I am honestly not a fan of snakes but the way they move, their beautiful colors and the shine on their skin made me make an impulsive decision that worked out very well.”
Viktoria Modesta Moskalova
Singer/Songwriter and performing artist
“After my voluntary operation, I wanted to get a leg that provided balance to my body in its shape. Three years after the amputation, I then saw it as an opportunity to regard the leg as a fashion item and art project which, seemed rather fun and exciting. The first time I wore a limb that was obviously so bionic, it gave me a total sense of uniqueness and feeling of mutant human in the best possible way. It was really fascinating watching people’s reactions because most of them were speechless. Most importantly when the limb is attached and I’m walking with it in my full composure it has a power that is beyond something that can be described.”
Chairperson for Limb Power
“My attitude to being an amputee and wearing an artificial limb has changed with time. To begin with, one is very aware of being different, of being disfigured, but as time moves on one adjusts and changes perspective. I love wearing the leg that Sophie designed for me, although at first, the same fear of being different does enter your head, but it’s being different in a positive way.”
Ex-serviceman, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician
“When we were on tour we often thought and discussed potential injuries we would receive, as part of the nature of our job and that meant an amputation or worse, was a very realistic possibility. I think these conversations with my team members, which often took place while we worked, not only kept me on my toes but has made it relatively easy for me to come to terms with being an amputee. I think 99% of the amputees I have met would like an alternative limb as we tend to think of our prosthetics more as items of clothing like extended shoes or accessories of which everyone has their own individual style.”
All images © of the artist