Monday, 14 April 2014

Interview with Sophie De Barata - The Alternative Limb Project

For my new magazine 'elleven magazine,' I interviewed founder and creator of the Alternative Limb Project Sophie De Barata!

Here you go...!

After studying special effects and prosthetics, graduate of London University of the Arts Sophie De Barata decided to make a very beautiful change to the lives of the many people affected with missing limbs today. Giving them the new lease of life, and control that they deserve.

Sophie started out her career interning for a small prosthetics company, ending up staying with the small team for eight years and on the side playing around with her skills in silicone. “I was making all these kind of costume pieces, I don’t know why. I think I was going out quite a lot at the time, and it was just like ah, I think ill make something that I can kind of see being worn and interact with. So I made all of these kind of random costume pieces, and I built up quite a collection and I was like why have I got all of these like, what am I doing with it?” This then sparked an idea, along with a little girl asking for a Peppa Pig prosthetic leg; why not combine Sophie’s love for anything creative, with making these life changing prosthetics for people. “I could see the rehabilitation and thought actually it makes complete sense. It’s really valuable having this service of getting a realistic leg, its amazing, and it does a lot self esteem wise for a lot of people who are at a really vulnerable time in their lives. At the same time, why do you feel necessarily that you just have to stick to what you’ve had before, just to blend in if you can use that space in a completely different way? And be playful with it and see it for what it is as well?”
The whole process is actually quite a learning curve for Sophie and for the client, Sophie asks for around 50 images of anything that inspires or visually excites them, it could be a rusty old car to simply a flower. “It’s nice to have people that sometime don’t know what they want, and you can kind of uncap their imagination, but its also nice to have someone that turns up and knows exactly what they want.” After this is all thoroughly gone over and both parties are happy with the design, Sophie can start the process of making them a completely bespoke leg.
Starting the Alternative Limb Project in the summer of 2012, one of the most exciting opportunities was approaching; the London 2012 Paralympics. Already in contact with snow queen Viktoria Modesta, Sophie and Viktoria started to create this majestic one off piece for Viktoria’s opening ceremony. The ice Queen leg, “they were just going to have her with her regular foam shaped leg, no one would know she’s an amputee. Once she was doing rehearsals she approached the director and said, ‘you know I know someone that could do some amazing stuff with my leg, why don’t we turn it into a feature, it’s the Paralympics, why don’t we make a point of the fact that I’m an amputee and I’m being spun round on one leg in these massive heels.’” For the ceremony, Viktoria’s costume was sponsored by Swarovski, so it was Sophie’s job to crystalize the snow queens leg. “They gave me basically what they had left which was an entire table full of crystals, which was amazing.” Sophie sneaks in that she actually still has some of the crystals left, I can just imagine them dotted around Sophie’s workshop glamming up the odd silicone hand or foot. “I started experimenting with the crystals having got a drawing of the outfit she was wearing. I had to keep it really lightweight though, that was always a factor because all the jewels were getting really heavy. So I used parts of plastic bottles and lined it, they probably hate the idea that I used plastic bottles alongside their crystals but I had to think of other ways to keep it light.”
Viktoria Modesta is an amputee model with a cracking pair of leg’s, no one can deny that, another design Sophie created for the model was her stereo leg. A speaker actually fitted, and working into her prosthetic. Amputees are not seen enough in mainstream media, and this is the important change that Sophie hopes to have an impact with, “Prosthetics within mainstream media is definitely changing, with the Paralympics anyway. I don’t know whether its just because I’m in it, I see it all the time. I get so many emails from amputees and full bodied people contacting me and saying ‘oh this is amazing, I’m really inspired by this,’ so its great to have a conversation and open it up to the general public as well.”
Next on the agenda, the chandelier leg, yes, chandelier. Sophie’s recent project for Paralympian Steph Reid, Steph was also the face of Debenhams diversity campaign. “Steph gave me one of her old running blades and asked me to do something fun with it as she’s gone into modeling for a bit. I’ve done some laser cut Perspex mirror shards that are all contoured around her socket, they are going to reflect everything that is around her, and it will look like a chandelier on the bottom of her leg.” Sophie’s really into changing and playing around with the diversity of the prosthetic, with others focusing on how to make prosthetics as real to life as possible, “I’m not really interested in that, its more a case of using the space in a different way and almost like treating it as an accessory I guess, so like the speakers or secret compartments, even a sat nav!”
With a very one on one focus, it’s hard for Sophie to branch further afield than the UK, but with recent contact from people across the globe, the idea of doing things overseas really excites Sophie. “I got an enquiry from Papa New Guanine” Sophie laughs, “but that didn’t really come to anything. A clinic in Dubai got in touch and I thought that would be really cool! There’s certainly scope to go global, I just don’t have anyone over the globe that can touch base with clients for me, so that limits me somewhat. It’s just about working out how to do it.”

After taking the most minimal amount of time off for her recent arrival of a little baby, Sophie is already back to work creating her next piece, an alien vs predator leg, something else for the world to marvel at.

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