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Stunningly surreal artificial limbs (pictures)

The Alternative Limb Project creates one-of-a-kind pieces of wearable limb art decorated with henna and snakes, studded with crystals and zippers, and altogether mesmerizing.

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Leslie Katz
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1 of 16 Alternative Limb Project

Snake arm

The custom prosthetic limbs created by Sophie de Oliveira Barata as part of the Alternative Limb Project boldly reflect the wearer's imagination, personality, and interests.

"An alternative-style limb can help to break down social barriers, delight the eye, and provide an unusual talking point," according to the Web site. de Oliveira Barata studied special-effects prosthetics for film and television at London Arts University and now helps prosthetists craft artificial limbs from the realistic looking to the eye-catching and offbeat.

Para-triathlete Jo-Jo Cranfield's snake arm -- which features a split-tongued green reptile slithering out from the inside -- definitely falls into the latter category.

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Slithering snake, close-up

A close-up view of Jo-Jo Cranfield's snake arm, which Sophie de Oliveira Barata designed just for her.
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3 of 16 Jon Enoch

Stereo leg

British singer-songwriter and performance artist Viktoria Modesta Moskalova underwent a voluntary below-the-knee leg amputation in 2007 to improve her mobility and balance following numerous hospitalizations and health problems stemming from a doctor's error at birth. "I was very sure that by losing my natural damaged limb I would gain better health and most importantly, control over it all," she says.

This leg studded with crystals and speakers, the 27-year-old artist says, is a "special piece that needs to be exposed only in special circumstances to be fully appreciated, meaning onstage, on film, or as part of an art installation."

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4 of 16 Alternative Limb Project

Statement stereo leg

Viktoria Modesta Moskalova's stereo leg has a decidedly steampunk feel.
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5 of 16 Alternative Limb Project

Reflections on a leg

Artist Viktoria Modesta Moskalova opted for this crystallized leg when playing the Ice Queen at the London 2012 Paralympic closing ceremony. The leg was sponsored by Swarovski, purveyor of all things shiny.
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6 of 16 Omkaar Kotedia

An artificial leg with muscle

Ryan Seary, a former British serviceman who worked in explosive ordnance disposal, lost his left foot and hand during a high-risk search mission in Afghanistan, and now wears this leg that shows some muscle.

"I think 99 percent of the amputees I have met would like an alternative limb as we tend to think of our prosthetics more as items of clothing like extended shoes or accessories of which everyone has their own individual style, much like people who choose to have a tattoo," Seary says. "Someone might like a butterfly and someone else would prefer the grim reaper."

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7 of 16 Omkaar Kotedia

Calf closeup

A back view of Ryan Seary's leg. Sophie de Oliveira Barata designed the central pole of the artificial limb to look like his tibia.
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8 of 16 Omkaar Kotedia

Striking realism

"I can't get over how realistic the foot looks," military veteran Ryan Seary says of his artificial appendage. "Many people have taken a few seconds to get their mind round the fact that it's not real."
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9 of 16 Delphine Doidy

Henna tattoo arm

This highly detailed arm features henna tattoos reaching from hand to elbow. The Alternative Limb Project involves the wearer in all stages of the prosthetic-making process, from early conception to final tweaks.
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10 of 16 Delphine Doidy

Henna arm accoutrements

For those who really like to stand out, the henna tattoo arm features extra bits of bling. Sophie de Oliveira Barata sometimes incorporates plastics, metals, and jewels into her artificial limbs and can also add lights, lasers, and mirrors.
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11 of 16 Alternative Limb Project

Floral leg

"I think losing a limb has a massive effect on ones self-esteem and body image," says Kiera Roche, who wears a floral leg designed by Sophie de Oliveira Barata. "Having a beautifully crafted limb designed for you makes you feel special and worthy." Roche serves as chairperson for the organization LimbPower, which provides rehabilitation and support services for British amputees.
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12 of 16 Alternative Limb Project

Blooming prosthetic

"I've had an incredible response to the leg from other amputees, and able-bodied people," Kiera Roche says of her specially designed appendage. "I just wish I had more opportunities to wear it. I need to go to more parties."
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13 of 16 Delphine Doidy

Arm on throne

This ornate wooden arm designed by the Alternative Limb Project has secret compartments on the inside.
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14 of 16 Alternative Limb Project

Sophie in the studio

Sophie de Oliveira Barata in her London studio. She works in all areas of prosthetics, sculpting fingers, toes, partial feet, and partial hands, as well as crafting custom leg and arm covers.
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15 of 16 Alternative Limb Project

Mixing pigments

Sophie de Oliveira Barata mixes silicone and pigments to get just the right skin shade for a prosthetics wearer.
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Final touches

Prosthetics designer Sophie de Oliveira Barata pays incredible attention to detail, as evidenced by her work on these toenails.

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