Viktoria Modesta: A pop star revolutionizing our understanding of disability

Standing on a big sparkly stage is a young woman wearing a fluorescent crystal covered dress. Upon first glance, she seems like just another pop star, performing at a concert. However, as the camera zooms out and the viewer sees the singer in full height, one might realize that her leg is also completely covered in crystals. However, she is not wearing a boot. Instead, the pop star has a bejeweled prosthesis.

The artist, Viktoria Modesta, is singing and dancing as lively as any other pop star. Her voice is unique, and her style is reminiscent of early Madonna and Poker face-era Lady Gaga. Many people would like to say that she is dancing despite her disability, despite her prosthesis. However, the singer rejects such claims. For her, her prosthesis is the reason she dances, it is an intrinsic part of who she is.

The singer, artist, model and writer had her leg voluntarily amputated at the age of 20. Born with a damaged leg in the Latvian republic of USSR, Viktoria Modesta survived over 15 operations. In Latvia, where she was born, doctors continuously advised her mother to put her in a home. In Soviet countries children with disabilities were often stigmatized, and no special accommodations were provided. Luckily, her parents saw past society’s desire to hide her, and her mother nurtured in her a great sense of self, along with a love for music, art, and dance.

In 1999, Modesta immigrated with her family to London. However, despite leaving her Eastern bloc homeland, and relocating to city that was considered much more progressive, her situation took a turn for the worse. At school she was constantly bullied and taunted, eventually forcing her to drop out at the age of 14. Her leg kept her fromwalking or standing for long. And even though she started discovering her passions, such as music, performance art, and nightlife, she could not pursue them due to limited mobility. Finally, she decided that amputation would give her much more liberty and mobility. The act can only be described as courageous. However, the singer has stated in many interviews that the last thing she wants is pity.

From the time she was a little girl in Latvia, everyone who looked at her, looked at her with pity. Everyone assumed that because of her leg she could never do much, never achieve much. Throughout her life, the singer has proven them wrong. While the music industry hardly has any people with disabilities, Viktoria is set on changing that, along with any ideas the public has about people with disabilities, and her prosthesis has done nothing but help her.

Her new single “Prototype”, which premiered on the British X-factor on December 15th has already garnered millions of views. The video shows her accentuates her prosthetic leg, which changes with every shot.  The video shows Modesta dancing with a spike prosthesis, walking with a bionic leg,

In her video Modesta appears with and without her prosthesis. She is shown in bed with a lover, and on a throne. The artist explained in the ”making of” video, that she wanted to normalize the image of an amputee in people’s minds. By showing herself on the throne, the singer aimed to show the world that someone like her can be empowered, can be the idol of millions, can be a star. Her video also shows adverse reactions to the popularity of “the first bionic pop-star”, which reflect that attitudes of people today. While much of the press surrounding the release of “Prototype” has been positive, praising the artist and her fight against ableism through art, there are articles that call the video “twisted”, and which condemn her message as a simple tool for shock value.

photo of Ewelina Stechnij/Chilli Media

Despite it being 2014, there are still people out there that “other” people with disabilities, and thus marginalizing them. Such reactions were predicted by Viktoria, who made sure to add sexual scenes to her video, so that she could draw attention to her sexuality, and the presence of sexuality in people with disabilities. Oftentimes, ableists  treat amputees as sexless, and Modesta aims to show Britain, and the world that that is not true.

Her prosthetic leg plays a central role in the 6-minute clip. Throughout the video, the prostheses change from one otherworldly creation to another. Modesta aims to show her prosthetic as a source of empowerment, a reflection of her creative personality, rather than a deficiency. She also incorporates it into her sexual image, showing it as something that can be beautiful and attractive.

By all accounts, however, Modesta’s performance  is still considered shocking by the public. The buzz that surrounded the release of her video showcased how far society has come to accept people with disabilities, and how much further it needs to go.  Despite the strides that popular culture has achieved to represent different kinds of people, Modesta notes that seeing a person on stage without an arm is still startling and shocking for most. Through her performance art, the artist aims to change that perception around the world.




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