Spare Parts – 4BC 23 May 2012
Moyd and Loretta spoke to Priscilla Sutton, an inspirational Brissie girl who is taking her spare parts to London celebrating the Paralympics Games and promoting positive conversations on prosthetics.
Loretta: Now when Priscilla Sutton was just 26 she decided to have her right leg amputated below the knee because of a debilitating bone disease. But Priscilla has used that setback to get a new lease on life; she’s got an exhibition showing off her prosthetic limbs and she’s taking it to London. She joins us now, hi Priscilla.
Priscilla Sutton: Hi.
L: Now Priscilla, firstly, tell us about that decision you made to amputate the leg. Just take us back, what was the bone disease that you had?
PS: Um, so it was more of a condition than a disease, so I was kind of lucky in that way. I was born without a fibula, which is your outer bone on your below knee um part of the leg and my foot was very small. As I got older, I found that my toes were curling underneath and just making it more and more difficult to walk. The doctors I had growing up always wanted to amputate my leg as a child and my Mum always said “no, no it’s my daughter’s decision if and when she’s ever ready”, which I really appreciated. It took me until I was about 26, about 25 actually. It was a bit of a process to go through, a big decision and it ended up being the best decision of my life. I went from not being able to walk so much or do the things I love, like travelling, to being able to run and I box and I travel a lot and I lead a fantastic life with no setbacks actually. So chopping a part of my body off was great, which I know sounds crazy (laughs).
(Moyd and Loetta laugh)
Moyd: Yeah, but from what you’ve just described I can understand that. Did it take you long to adjust to the artificial leg, to get used to walking around on that?
PS: It did. I have a really positive attitude, so I thought that’s all I really needed to get through it. Um, turns out it wasn’t, it was a huge help but for me personally I took a long time to actually take to walking on my leg. I have had a lot of laughs over the years with the prosthetic clinics I’ve been to that I have a very sensitive stump and I’m quite picky. Ah, it just took me a little while to get walking. I used to go to Physiotherapy with my leg in a backpack and I’d be on crutches (laughs). So it took me a while to actually really feel comfortable but I discovered silicon, which in the prosthetic world it’s fantastic. Instead of cotton socks, silicon socks, which might not mean a lot to you guys but it’s a comfort thing for your skin and it just changed my life. And as soon as I was introduced to that, there was no stopping me. But it surprised me how long it took to get going.
M: You could walk around now, nobody would know, would they?
PS: Oh no, except that I have pretty fancy legs (laughs). So you can blend in really easily, there’s fantastic fake skins that have wrinkles, you can even paint the toenails.
PS: You can even wear high heels. It’s fantastic. But I choose to have art work on my leg, so I either look like I have a full tattoo (laughs). So, which is great, stands out a little bit.
L: So, is this how your exhibition started? Tell us this, because you are actually showing off these limbs, aren’t you?
PS: Yes, well I wear mine and show it off that way, but all of the ones on the walls are old legs and arms that I collect from people and I get artists to actually use them as their canvas.
L: How did you come up with this idea?
PS: So, it literally was spring cleaning at home. I really did want to take on a new creative project, so this was in the back of my mind and one day I was cleaning out my house and I had a couple of old legs in the cupboard.
PS: I know, it’s really literally the skeletons in the closet when you’re an amputee.
L: Oh, it is, it is.
PS: And we collect them because we don’t know what to do with them when they’re superseded.
L: And you don’t want to throw them out, do you?
PS: No and they become a part of you so it’s hard to just say, you know “see ya later, thanks for helping me walk for a year” or whatever. And there’s also some rules around it, like they really don’t want you to throw them in the wheelie bin. Just imagine the poor garbo, you know.
PS: So there’s rules and you know, so we tend to collect them and then I thought “oh, I feel like a hoarder, I’ve got all these legs for no reason, I should get some of my creative friends to use them and make art work for me”
PS: And because I wanted to do something creative and fun for myself at the same time, that little idea for me grew into the bigger project that I was wanting. And I gave it to a few friends “is that weird, is that strange, do you think it’s creepy?” Everyone loved it so much and their eyes just lit up and said “you have to do this” and now we are here today.
M: I really thought a few amputees actually said they actually found it quite therapeutic donating the old limbs.
PS: Yes, they did. Um, I had limbs from lovely blokes who had had them in the shed since the 70s.
PS: Nothing, they didn’t know what to do with them.
M: How different are they? Have they changed much at all?
PS: Yes they have. Um, I think, like there’s definitely technology and the feet have changed a lot in their flexibility and what you can achieve using different types of feet. But I think the biggest thing that I noticed from the old ones to the new ones, without wearing them to know how they feel, is the weight. Some of the old ones I got were just so heavy, that I thought “how did you guys walk on these things, they’re crazy?” but I guess you get used to it, you do what you have to do.
L: So it’s a good education for people too, isn’t it?
PS: It is and it’s sort of like um, when you hide vegetables from children, you blend up the vegies into the tomato sauce or something. That’s how I look at the education with Spare Parts. People don’t actually realise they’re learning a lot of the time when they come along, because they’re looking at a prosthetic for the first time and they’re thinking and they’re asking questions, which is really great. But because it’s disguised with visual art, I guess, um it relaxes people and opens up the conversation in a different way and suddenly they’re learning without feeling awkward, or feeling like they have to understand everything and it’s actually quite lovely what this little exhibition has become.
M: Give us an idea of some of the art that you see there.
PS: Well, um, one of my favourite pieces is actually a prosthetic eye, which my friend donated and it was her Mum’s. So speaking of the therapeutic side, for them it was a really wonderful thing to do; their Mum had passed away about eight years before she donated the eye. So it’s also families of amputees that get that therapeutic side of seeing a part of a loved one live on.
L: So what have you done with the eye though?
PS: Well, the eye was also in the 2010 exhibition and it’s coming to London. I wanted to do something really special with it so I gave it to a milliner in Brisbane, her name is Briellen Baker, and she turned it into a hat.
PS: And what I loved the most about the exhibition and this piece was people, we had it in a glass cabinet and people walked along and thought “why is there a hat at this exhibition?” and they’d get about a foot past it and go “huh” and step back a bit and say “there’s an eye on that hat”.
L: Something’s looking at me.
PS: Yeah and it was, and I just loved that so much and so I’m really pleased that that’s coming over to London.
L: Yeah tell us about that, because you’re taking it there during the Paralympics.
PS: Yes, I sure am. So I’m not a paralympic event, I’m just a little crazy woman doing it on my own but I thought it’s a great captured audience. And last time somebody said “would you do this again?” and I made a bit of a joke “only during the Paralympics” and suddenly here I am and it’s all happening. So I just thought it’s a captive audience, for me personally not just as an amputee but just as a human, I’m really inspired by the Paralympics and what these amazing athletes can achieve with their differences in life. And I think that it creates such a positive conversation about prosthetics and for me 2012 is very special because of Oscar Pistorius, who is the South African runner. He is a bit of an amputee idol for me. He is a double amputee, lost both legs when he was a baby.
M: Is he the sprinter?
PS: Yes, so they call him the blade runner. He is basically aiming to qualify for the Olympics and the Paralympics.
PS: So for me, as a person who wears prosthetics, that’s a really special time. So I guess this is my way of worming in and being a part of that exciting year for us amputees (laughs).
M: Now you’ve got a bit of a benefit show coming up very soon.
PS: I do
L: In Brisbane
PS: Yeah, there’s a few ways that people can help out because what I do is rely on sponsorship and funding and it’s proving to be quite an expensive project. So there are four ways people can help out. The first is a benefit show at The Zoo, which is the music venue in The Valley, not the monkey place.
PS: I like to clarify that.
M: Well I don’t know, sometimes it can be the same thing.
L: You’re right.
PS: And that’s on June 7 and we’ve got bands and comedy and Patience from The Grates as the MC. Some of the artworks from 2010 will be on display as well. And there’s also an opportunity for people on that night to be part of the 2012 exhibition. We’ve got some awesome raffle packs up for grabs and they’ll be drawn on that night. Dogstar, which is the local Brisbane fashion label are amazingly supportive and they are actually putting on a Market Day on June 17 at their studio in Wooloongabba where you can buy lots of Dogstar pieces and bargains and one-offs. And there’s also Pozible which is a crowd-funding website, which I’ve set up a page on. And all of the information, everything that I’ve just rambled off quickly is on the website, which is SpareParts2012.com
L: Ok, SpareParts2012.com and you can find out all about that and of course the benefit show at The Zoo in The Valley on June 7 is the first thing. That’s wonderful, we look forward to hearing all about that and good luck in London with that Priscilla.
PS: Thank you.
L: Very inspirational, you, you know, a wonderful thing to do.
PS: Thank you so much and thank you for your support too.
M: Our pleasure. Priscilla Sutton, so yeah look at that website again if you want to check that out, everything that she just told us www.SpareParts2012.com and if you want to support that benefit show, that’s at The Zoo in Fortitude Valley on June the 7th.
L: Tickets just $12 they can be purchased in advance from TheZoo.com.au or from the door on the night.