By Kristen Nassif

Our limbs allow us to complete a variety of tasks. While limbs permit us to feel and explore, to touch and experience, they also reveal our inner emotions and feelings. We utilize our limbs to react to our surroundings, express how we feel, and to gesture. Thus, they imply both introverted and extroverted capabilities. Limbs, or lack thereof, reveal a great amount of information about an individual, such as what one does, how one feels, and what one experiences.

When considering a work of art, the viewer often conceives of the eyes and face of an individual as most important and crucial in conveying information. While body positioning may reveal general feelings or emotions, the viewer designates the face as an area of concentration and culmination of meaning. The works examined in the theme of Limbs reveal how artists may emphasize a lack of or highlight the body’s appendages in order to convey meaning.


Isamu Noguchi

Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988)
Torso #378
, 1952
Unglazed kasama red stoneware 20 in. x 13 in. x 2 3/4 in.

Although Noguchi’s sculpture concentrates on a torso, the treatment and orientation of the appendages, which most likely reference arms, highlight his interest in memorializing the Hiroshima bombing of 1945. This sculpture both references a haniwa funeral figure and demonstrates a variety of firing techniques. Noguchi allowed more ash to settle on the stunted arms, creating a shiny dark colored effect. Not only does this technique emphasize the limbs of the sculpture, but it also creates a burnt-like appearance. The stumpy nature of these limbs implies amputation and deformity, clearly referencing the aftereffects of a bombing. Furthermore, the two appendages are in varying orientations, reaching out in different directions, suggesting an attempt at motion that reveals struggle and pain.

Noguchi does not utilize the body or limbs in Torso #378 to represent the unique self, but rather chooses to emphasize the lack of appendages to commemorate those affected in Hiroshima. In other words, his use of limbs creates and combines shared or communal memories so that a variety of audiences may experience and meditate upon the consequences of war.

Lihua Lei (b. 1966)
Phantom Pain,
cloth and wire armature, glass, plexi, sound, video
Lihua Lei

In Lei’s three-part installation entitled Phantom Pain, the largest component consists of large butterfly wings of white cloth, stretched over wire frames. While the asymmetrical wings soar to encompass the majority of the space, two glass legs comprise their base. Lei casted these limbs from her own body. Her legs reflect her struggle and handicap from polio: one leg is longer and thicker, while the other is shorter and thinner.

In this work Lei explores her disability, using her limbs to embody and represent herself. Her legs appear in a kneeling position, perhaps praying or preparing for flight. The material of the glass simultaneously implies transparency and weight, in contrast to the effortless, flowing, suspended nature of the wings. Lei uses her limbs to face and overcome her impairment, ultimately freeing herself both physically and spiritually. While this installation deals with the unique self, the vulnerabilities and transformative qualities of Lei’s work invite the viewers to reflect upon the distinction between dream and reality, as well as the physical and spiritual.


Hiroshi Sugimoto

Hiroshi Sugimoto (b. 19480
Stylized Sculpture 025, designer: Gabrielle Chanel, 2007
Gelatin silver print, 58 3/4 x 47 in.

Sugimoto’s haunting yet simplistic print depicts a Chanel dress on a mannequin. Not only does this work serve to highlight an exquisite garment, but also explores the importance of clothing and its relationship to humans. The positioning of the mannequin and composition of the print reveal Sugimoto’s conscious choice to use a mannequin with “artificial skin.” The lighting serves to emphasize the line between the wrist and movable hand, accentuating the absence of human form. Interestingly, Sugimoto utilizes limbs while also acknowledging their absence. Instead of glorifying or celebrating the beauty of the human form, Sugimoto creates a timeless, permanent, almost immortal image. By emphasizing a lack of human presence, he forces the viewer to ponder the role of clothing in creating identity or individuality in a completely removed and distant environment, space, and time. Instead of using the body or limbs to represent self, Sugimoto creates a reality in which clothes dominate. Sugimoto deals with neither a uniform or unique self, but rather an “other self,” detached from everyday life.



Corwin, Sharon, et. al. Art at Colby: Celebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Colby College Museum of Art. Waterville, Me.: Colby College Museum of Art, 2009.

“Stylized Sculpture.” Hiroshi Sugimoto, Web. 25 Jan, 2014. <>

Currents3  Lihua Lei. Waterville, ME: Colby College Museum of Art, 2007.