Becca Cerra: Altered Aesthetics

Becca Cerra (right) fitting Adela with her sculpture at Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center. (Photo by Melissa Hesse)

Becca Cerra is a multi-disciplinary artist currently collaborating with people who have amputations to create wearable sculptures. She sees her nonmedical “prosthetics” as her visual homage to the body’s story.

Where did the concept of this work come from?

I went to Maryland Institute College of Art, where I integrated yoga and dance into my sculptural practice. Five weeks before my senior thesis, in which I was meant to perform, I suffered an ankle injury. I made myself a steel ankle brace in the same visual language as the sculptures. My sculptural practice changed drastically as a result. That was the first time I made sculpture meant to be worn and to change how the body works.

Can the models use the sculptures as functional prosthetics?

The sculptures don’t restore the ability to walk. They are simply to turn the body into a work of art. I’m not trying to replicate the knee or ankle joints. The models keep their sculptures as my gift to them.

How have your other projects informed this one?

In a previous body of work, one of my models, Danielle, talked about her scoliosis. She alluded to the fact that it isn’t just injuries that hold us back, but our limiting beliefs, which are tied to past events or past injuries or past trauma. We allow those stories to hold us back. That’s what I want to highlight.

Also, [the abled] look at amputees and immediately think that they are limited.Dan, an ultra-marathoner, is the first amputee I worked with. He wasn’t an ultra-marathoner before his amputation. He runs, he bikes, he swims. A lot of people are surprised to find he can do that. [The sculptures are about] breaking down those limiting beliefs about ourselves and others, and changing the conversation.

Adela is a Zumba instructor. She loves to dance, she loves to move. Her amputation was four years ago, as a result of going into cardiac arrest and losing circulation in her leg. Since then, she is trying to figure out how she can get back to doing Zumba. She is not going to be able to do it in the same way that she used to. She was in a coma for 45 days and woke up without her leg. She sees it as gratitude that she gets to be alive, because that wasn’t necessarily what was going to happen for her.

How have your models responded to being photographed?

For Dan, it was quite emotional. He has scars on his stomach because he recently had surgery to remove his prostate due to cancer. The scars were only a few weeks old, so he was self-conscious about showing those in photos.

Adela keeps thanking me for creating visibility. All of the amputees that are involved in this project keep offering ideas and ways of participating and different avenues to show this work.

How would you like for the work to be viewed?

I would like for it to be out in the public so that people who aren’t necessarily going to come into an art gallery or museum can experience this work and have conversations with people that they wouldn’t normally have conversations with. Sometimes going into a space isn’t easily accessible for someone with disabilities. So my hope is that if it’s out on street level, people would be able to see it.

What have you learned from the models through this process?

As I do the first stage of the project —making the mold of the limb — we’re sitting together for about two or three hours. We spend that time talking about their life, my life, and what brought us to this point together. What I am taking away from this project is learning the intricacies of people’s stories. When I had my ankle injury, it affected everything. I was in pain. It was affecting my mind. It was affecting all parts of my day. I am noticing how all parts of people’s stories are connected.