Most of us can’t name our ancestors past a few generations. Peruvian artist and photographer Christian Fuchs can, he knows his so well he is able to turn into them. “I reinterpret my ancestors’ paintings. I get their dresses, accessories and everything that’s in their portraits.”
Three years ago, Fuchs, now 37, began photographing himself dressed as relatives who were alive almost two hundred years ago. Don Eulogio Eléspuru y Martínez de Pinillos, Carl Schilling and Doña Natividad Martínez de Pinillos Cacho y Lavalle are just some of the names of the ancestors he’s transformed himself into.
Fuchs’ transformation begins weeks before posing in front of a camera.
“I read about my characters. If there isn’t any information, I put myself in their context,” says Fuchs. “I read letters, diaries, birth and death certificates, and since some are historical characters, I read their biographies.”
Once he’s recreated the backgrounds and outfits – sometimes heavy corsets and crinolines – he meets with his make-up artist, who gives him a pale skin tone like Doña Enriqueta Eléspuru Martínez de Pinillos, his fourth great-aunt. He then spends long hours in a studio taking self-portraits, posing in the beautiful yet uncomfortable clothing.
Ever since Fuchs found a drawer full of photographs from the 1800s, at the age of 10, he became a very diligent researcher and amateur genealogist.
“Eulogio, my fourth great grandfather, had a big portrait but it got lost during the War of the Pacific. Since his sisters had big portraits, I wanted one of him, so I had to reinterpret his clothing based on descriptions from books.”
Don Eulogio Eléspuru y Martínez de Pinillos was the son of Mariscal Juan Bautista Eléspuru y Montes de Oca, a marshall who fought in Peru’s Independence War, and Doña Natividad Martínez de Pinillos Cacho y Lavalle was a Peruvian aristocrat, he explains.
There are other ancestors of his from beyond Peruvian history. Fuchs claims to have traced his lineage back to the prophet Muhammad. Other distinguished people in his family tree include William Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth I and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whom he has plans to transform into soon.
But one of Fuchs’ most cherished portraits is a small photograph taken in Osorno, Chile in 1943. It’s the portrait of Catalina del Carmen Silva Schilling, his grandmother who recently passed away.
“My grandmother was a beautiful woman with fine features,” says Fuchs about the woman who raised him and encouraged his in their family history. “She is the closest person I’ve had in my life.”
Although Fuchs doesn’t know what age he would like to interpret her as, he would like to start after he has grieved, knowing he will have a different emotional attachment to the portrait. “I have my grandmother’s character and her way of being. She was a perfectionist who loved aesthetics. We had the strongest connection,” he says.
For Fuchs, his art is more than a reinvention of himself: it’s a way to reunite with his past.
“All of our ancestors are imprinted in us. We are part of all the people who preceded us. The things we are and do have originated in our ancestors.”
If you’d like to see Christian Fuchs’ portraits, you can contact him to arrange a visit to his gallery, located in Barranco. For more information, visit Christian Fuchs’ Facebook page or email him at email@example.com