Flirting with the fine line between art and fashion, the prosthetics of The Alternative Limb Project are pushing the envelope on the conventional image of amputees. While prosthetics have long been regarded as something that needed to be hidden or seem as life-like as possible, Sophie de Oliveira Barata is inviting people to step away from the unspoken social conventions and embrace their bodies. To see it not as a missing piece, but rather as a part of who they are and to express themselves accordingly. Working with athletes, supermodels, and servicemen, de Oliveira Barata is crossing art and limbs in a way that almost borders on bionic.
First glances at singer Viktoria Modesta’s crystal-studded limb leave you with impressions of style and glamour—the last thing from your mind being that she is, in fact, missing a leg. "It was really fascinating watching people's reactions because most of them were speechless," Modesta says. And while it’s rude to stare one could almost be forgiven in this situation. "It's drawing attention to their disability in a positive way," creator de Oliveira Barata told CNN. "Rather than people seeing what's missing, it's about what they've got. Having an alternative limb is about claiming control and saying 'I'm an individual and this reflects who I am.'”
Trained at the London Arts University where she studied special effects for Film and T.V., de Oliveira Barata worked in realistic prosthetics for eight years before she decided to develop her own alternative line. Meeting Modesta in 2009, the two collaborated on a design for the singer/model before creating the first piece—a stereo leg, complete with speakers and outfitted with enough crystals for a rock star. "The first time I wore a limb that was so obviously bionic, it gave me a total sense of uniqueness and feeling mutant human in the best way possible," Modesta says of her first Alternative Limb Project piece.
"The dominant thinking is that a new limb should be as close a match to the previous limb as possible," de Oliveira Barata explains. "But until technology gets to the point where you can have a realistic looking limb in movement and aesthetics, there will always be this uncanny middle ground. Having an alternative limb embraces difference and can help create a sense of ownership and empowerment."
And it seems her clients agree. Varying from fantasy to cyborgs to tattoo art to iridescent feathers, the whimsical nature of these limbs is not lost on anyone. Worn as proudly as a new “it bag,” these pieces are favored as an extension of the wearer, allowing them to possibly reclaim a sense of self that their missing limb may have taken from them.
And while de Oliveira Barata understands the uncanny route she’s taken with her leaps into the health, fashion, art and technological fields, she does so with the knowledge that she’s giving something bigger and more meaningful than a limb to each person she works with, “it does capture that whole childlike imagination—it’s like being a superhero with super powers."