The delicate lines of Sugawa Makiko’s female figures are ethereal and tender. A beautiful combination of the fragility of the human body with a fetish edge creates Sugawa’s unique world. A prosthetic limb in her work is not a symbol of unattractiveness, but rather the women in her work exude a confident sexuality—a message Sugawa wishes to portray to her audience. Through events and social media, her message becomes more accessible to others, and one thing is for sure: it is a message that needs to be heard loud and clear.
Why did you become an artist?
I’ve loved drawing ever since I was a child. I didn’t start out thinking that I wanted to be an artist, but looking back on it, it seems like I was always drawing. The time I spend drawing is time spent in deep self-analysis so there are times when it’s exhausting, but I push on knowing that being able to turn my thoughts into something that can actually be seen is amazing.
Who and what are you inspired by?
I feel inspired by the women who are leading ladies in their own soap operas. I’m also inspired by lace, pretty dresses, antique accessories, and fashion photography books. Mark Ryden is my favourite artist.
What are the major themes of your artwork?
Ever since I lost my leg 12 years ago due to illness, dolls and prosthetic legs have become some of my motifs. I have also been drawing with imperfection and flaws as a theme.
Your works have been described as representing the fragile, bewitching, and sensual woman. Would you say that this is social commentary or more of a self-portrait?
I think my works are both. I dream of doing away with the negative image of prostheses by depicting them as cooler, stronger, and more fashionable. So, when I’m drawing women with prosthetic legs, it includes a message to society. And when I’m drawing women who are not flirtatious but sensual and who value independence and individuality, I’m incorporating what I think is my best self.
It would be great if you could shed some light on life in Japan as an amputee. Are you trying to empower fellow amputees through your works?
Yes, I am trying to empower fellow amputees, too! When my leg was surgically amputated, I began to draw chic-looking women with prosthetic legs while on my hospital bed—it was so that I could accept my new body and build up my confidence. I feel like it would be great if I could help women who, like me, have lost a leg and are in a state of shock, by getting them to see my works.
There are many people in Japan who use prosthetic legs or arms because of an accident or illness. Everyone is very strong and getting involved in society. We are blessed with track and field athletes aspiring to compete in the paralympics and running groups for people with prosthetic legs who are trying to keep fit. You don’t get a negative image of prosthetics from them—on the contrary, there are a number of troopers who recognise prosthetic limbs as a positive characteristic.
However, there aren’t that many troopers. And in the rural areas, where there are no amputee communities or information about amputees, there are still a lot of people who don’t leave their homes.
I regularly hold fashion shows for amputees with my friends. I want to send out a message to people that even if you have a prosthetic leg, you can enjoy fashion and you can bravely walk and run outside. Thanks to social media, people living far away can also see these shows and I can hear their pleased feedback.
What has been your favourite project so far?
I have had a number of solo exhibitions and group exhibitions domestically and overseas and they have all been memorable. Publishing an art book and being able to have a celebration for the publication of my solo exhibition in Tokyo and Rome are the ones that particularly stand out in my mind.
What are your dreams for your art?
I want more people to see my art. Lately, I have been involved in a project in which I’m creating artwork for train station buildings. I draw thinking that I’d be so happy if the people who see my work can relate to them—this is the aim of my art.
What advice do you have for people who want to become freelance artists?
I think that being firm in your point of view and having an unwavering passion is the best motivation of all. Also, it is kind of important to have originality.
Any last words?
I’m having an exhibition this December and in the summer and winter of next year. I would be so happy if you could go and see it.