Prosthetic Art Exhibition Kicks off Paralympics in London
By Casey Murphy for O&P Business News – September 2012
You can read the original article online here.
Priscilla Sutton’s exhibition, Spare Parts, is about more than prosthetics. It’s about a better way of life.
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?”
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.”
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.
“[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 industry.”
“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