Prosthetic Art Exhibition Kicks off Paralympics in London

Spare Parts, an exhibition of prosthetic limbs that have been
transformed into works of art, was hosted at The Rag Factory in London from
Aug. 25 to Sept. 9 to coincide with the Paralympic Games, which was a dream
come true for the curator, Priscilla Sutton.

“In a radio interview I said I would want to do [the Spare Parts
exhibit] one more time, and in London during the Paralympics,” Sutton
said. “Oscar Pistorius is a huge inspiration to me. He’s not about
being different. He’s about being healthy, happy and achieving his goals.
So for me, looking forward to London in 2012 has been a really big thing
prosthetic-wise and amputee-wise. What better time to celebrate prosthetics
when all these amazing athletes are out there inspiring the world?”

Spare Parts

The idea for the Spare Parts exhibition came to Sutton in 2010, when she
cleaned out a cupboard and found several old prosthetic legs gathering dust.

“I thought I should get some of my really creative friends to do
something with them. Turn them into art work and then I can hang them on the
wall,” Sutton told O&P Business News. “The idea grew from
that because I thought if I have a couple of legs in just a few years, imagine
how many legs there are in the world in cupboards and garages and sheds just
waiting for a second life.”

Prosthetic Art Exhibition Kicks off Paralympics in London

Image: courtesy of Martine Cotton Photography.


The first Spare Parts art exhibition was held in Brisbane from November
2010 to December 2010.

“It was a pretty big project to pull together because I had to
collect all these limbs from everywhere and then find all these types of
artists who wanted to do it. It sounds easy when I say it, but it’s quite
difficult,” she said. “I liken it to herding cats: stuff coming from
everywhere, going to everywhere.”

Sutton did not expect to put together another exhibition. However, when
encouraged to look into hosting an exhibit during the Paralympic Games in
London, she took on the challenge. Reaching out through social media websites,
hospitals, private prosthetic clinics and support groups, Sutton found plenty
of amputees willing to donate spare limbs to the exhibit. Opening just before
the Paralympics, the Spare Parts exhibition ran for 2 weeks, closing the same
day the Paralympics ended.

“I have ideas of how to do it again in the future because it has to
change and it has to evolve and you have to do it in different places,”
Sutton said. “[The exhibit] helped break down this taboo barrier around
prosthetics for the general public who don’t know any amputees or have
never seen prosthetics. I think that Spare Parts has given people a really
nice, bright, interesting way to talk about prosthetics, so you have to keep
adapting and moving it.”

A new lifestyle

Sutton was born in Biloela — a small country town in Queensland,
Australia — without a fibula, which resulted in a shortened leg with
bundled toes. When doctors talked about amputation after she was born, her
mother decided to let Sutton choose for herself whether to amputate or not when
she was older. The decision to amputate came in November of 2005 when Sutton
was in her mid-20s.

Used prosthetic limbs get a second life at the Spare Parts exhibit during the  London Paralympics.
Used prosthetic limbs get a second life at the Spare Parts exhibit during the  London Paralympics.

Used prosthetic limbs get a second life at the Spare Parts exhibit during the
London Paralympics.

Image: courtesy of Priscilla Sutton


“[My leg] was getting worse for me. It was getting more painful, my
toes were curling under and I was limping more. Being physically restricted, I
couldn’t do all the fun things I wanted to do in life. So I decided to
chop it off and start again. It was the best decision of my life,” she
said. “I had a curved spine because I limped and my leg was much shorter.
I walk so much better and I don’t get the back pain I used to get and my
knee used to hurt and now it doesn’t.”

After the surgery, Sutton has been able to lead a happy and healthy
lifestyle. She works at Queensland Health in Australia in the mental health
department and enjoys exercise and travel. Some of her favorite activities
include boxing, running and going to the golf range.

“[Prosthetics] have changed my life for the better, so I love to
share that through the exhibit and to celebrate prosthetics because I think
they’re amazing,” Sutton said. “They make so many people’s
lives better that they deserve to be celebrated a lot more than what they are
in the general public.”

Future of the art

While Sutton finds the technology behind the mechanics of prosthetics to
be fascinating, she also finds the technology for the cosmetics fascinating as
well. Her own prosthetics are decorated with art that expresses her
personality. Sutton explained that she learned that a lot of people who lose an
arm do not use a prosthetic because they find them to be dead weight.

“What I think about is just because the arm may not be of use
daily, and maybe you can’t afford the bionic arms, there’s no reason
why you can’t have fashion accessories,” Sutton said. “Some
women just want something really nice to put on their stump to go out. It
doesn’t have to be some fake looking arm and fingers that don’t move.
It could just be something nice. I think there’s something to be said
about wearable art. That hasn’t really been explored in the prosthetic

“Life isn’t about blending and hiding and pretending.
Life’s about being proud and that makes me really happy that people have
gotten that,” she said. “I’ve never set out to do any of this. I
just wanted to paint my legs. The exhibition has inspired me. It’s a
wonderful thing.” by Casey Murphy

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