The Art of Designer Artificial Limbs
Sophie de Oliveira Barata makes hyper-realistic prostheses as well as elaborate costume limbs that reflect the wearer's personality.
By Roc Morin

There is a moment when each ultra-realistic prosthetic limb crafted by Sophie de Oliveira Barata transitions from a hunk of silicon into something more. “It happens around this point,” the artist explained, gesturing to a half-finished leg jutting mid-kick from her work bench. “I’ll know it’s happened when I handle a limb a bit roughly, and I find myself apologizing to it: ‘Oh, sorry!’”

It’s an easy mistake to make. With precision molding, hand-painted veins, and real human hairs, the limbs scattered around Sophie’s studio look uncannily real: legs on the verge of dancing and hands ready to burst into applause. With these prostheses, Sophie enables her customers to conceal their absences and blend in. But the artist also caters to another kind of clientele: amputees wanting to stand out. She works with these clients to imagine the missing parts of their bodies as fantastical works of art: an arm housing a motorized coiling snake, a jewel-studded leg with embedded stereo, a bird-wing arm with a metal hook for a talon. “Instead of seeing what’s missing,” she remarked, “you see what’s there.”

Sophie de Oliveira Barata *Swarovski Crystal Leg

“Generally the whole technology is moving towards trying to recapture a lifelike limb that looks realistic and also acts realistic in motion. In this instance I’m doing the complete opposite and I think it does capture that whole childlike imagination – it’s like being a superhero with super powers.” said de Oliveira.

Ramp1885 | Snow Queens and Feathered Warriors

Sophie de Oliveira Barata has sculpted arms and legs that have given new life to bodies severed from limbs: for Grace, a gleaming feathered armour; for Ryan, a wounded warrior, a deconstructed leg with exposing flesh, muscle, and bone; for Jo-Jo, a caduceus threaded with a coiled python.

And for model Viktoria Modesta, a perch of sparkling Swarovski ice and snow from which she, as the London Paralympics’ Snow Queen, could take flight.

Photo: Viktoria Modesta and her “Stereo Leg” designed by Alternative Limb Project. Photography by Rosemary Williams.