When Sophie de Oliveira Barata works on a prosthesis, the piece of work is usually a surprise to our everyday way of seeing things. She fulfills her customers’ wishes, for wearable works of art of the highest quality, every day in her studio in Lewes, in the county of Sussex in England.
Her prosthetic creations combine the latest technology with traditional orthopedic craftsmanship and they confront the subjects of body image, modification, evolution and transhumanism. At the same time encouraging open discussion about disabilities and celebrating the body’s diversity. She works together on individual Alternative Limb Projects with specialists in the fields of 3D modeling, electronics and high technology. Up to now her customers have included paralympic athletes, musicians, models, video game firms and museums.
In this way, just as dress fashion is a form of self expression, so with the Alternative Limb Project the prosthesis becomes an extension of the user’s personality. The transformation due to the prosthesis and not the missing body part is emphasized. Normative body models are thereby relaxed. Alternative Limb Project prosthesis challenge naturalness but also works on it. The wearer makes a statement without having to speak about the missing limb. At the same time discussion is invited by the surprise, curiosity or administration the prosthesis creates.
With personal orders Sophie de Oliveira Barata first asks her customers to draw up a mood board. The customer collects pictures which he or she feels attracted to, whether it be the atmosphere, the subject, the colours, the materials or something that he or she is connected to in another way. There will be long talks about the collection and patterns will be looked for. The practical aspect of the work will also be discussed, for example when and for how long the prosthesis will be worn. Sophie de Oliveira Barata’s ideas generate from this information and from the first sketches. Some customers have clear ideas of what they want and others have to work on it. She offers her suggestions to the people who are unsure, giving them more choice and she encourages them towards a combination of different elements in order to find their own suitable ideas.
Although the work made to order is usually optically conspicuous, it is not so extraordinary when looked at abstractly. Most of the customers chose a prosthesis complying with the usual form. However, quite other variations are possible. The prosthesis should usually behave symmetrically to the body so that it corresponds to our way of seeing things. That, however, makes asymmetry the most interesting for Sophie de Oliveira Barata so that she doesn’t necessarily hide the natural extremity ending. In the piece of work “Synchronized”, for Kelly Knox, the form of the natural arm is especially accentuated by the setting in galvanized gold. The rest of the extremity is transparent. The wearer is proud of her body and expresses this through her prosthesis. The artist hopes that exactly this beginning can be followed, not to hide anything but to create a new impression by accentuating and complimenting the natural and artificial body parts.