It is hard to imagine life without one leg, however Priscilla Sutton’s reality does not hold her back at all.
Priscilla Sutton, through her Spare Parts exhibitions and associated charity work, encourages everyone to be proud of their bodies, legless or not. After Priscilla opted at 26 to have an amputation of the under developed leg she was born with, she celebrated coming out as a person with disability with a “foot farewell” party.
Priscilla says, “I looked down after it was done and felt like it was the first day of the rest of my life. It was really exciting – from that moment I started talking about my leg and haven’t stopped since.” One such talk was an address in Brisbane last year for TEDx about how she cremated her leg, a process to help deal with the transition from her own leg to a prosthetic. Her Spare Parts exhibition in 2010 in Brisbane was partly a sharing of her own journey toward prosthetic pride. She says, “I wore orthotic boots since I was a child and though I limped and could hide my own leg in jeans, she didn’t define me. A few years after my first prosthetic, I started wearing a leg with polka dot cosmetics which got people looking, not just at my leg, but that I was happy to show it off, rather than conceal it. When I had my own leg, I never wore skirts, but now do all the time. Having a prosthetic changed me. I’m happy with my body and proud of my leg. It’s a bit like a tattoo — once you have one, you dress to show it off.”
Raising awareness about disabilities and prosthetics was another motivator for her exhibitions in Brisbane and then in London in 2012, which coincided with the Paralympic Games. Priscilla collected a range of prosthetics and then found artists who wanted to use them as a canvas, creating artworks that are beautiful, unusual and occasionally useful.
In Australia, prosthetics cannot be reused as they are moulded specifically for the individual. Priscilla collected pre-loved parts from amputees, a therapeutic experience for them, and asked hospital clinicians to clean out their cupboards. Others came from families of amputees who had passed away. “Some of the legs in the exhibitions are older than me.” Priscilla says. “For the amputees who gave parts, to see a piece of you on a wall is an amazing experience,” she says, “and it’s cathartic for families of amputees who have passed, to get to see part of them alive again.”
Pricilla’s favourite artworks are functional, such as a vintage wooden lamp with fingers holding the bulb or a computer mouse in the shape of a hand covered in artificial skin. The third Spare Parts exhibition in Brisbane last year sold out the first day, providing funding for prosthetics for 30 amputees through Laos based charity, Cope.
Closer to home, Priscilla started as work at Toowoomba’s Cobb + Co Museum in July last year and is sharing her messages locally. “I love my leg because it’s an invaluable tool. Amputees who come to the Spare Parts exhibitions tell me they feel proud of theirs too.”
Words by Janet Kiesker Images by Martine Cotton