March 25, 2019

The man who dresses up as his ancestors

801Peruvian artist and photographer Christian Fuchs is obsessed with his illustrious ancestors and spends months painstakingly recreating portraits of them, posing for them himself whether the ancestors were men or women.
It’s an unusual way to get close to your forefathers, but it works for Christian Fuchs.
The walls of his elegant apartment overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Lima’s bohemian Barranco district are covered with paintings of his aristocratic European and Latin American ancestors.
But if you look closer, you soon realise that many of the portraits are, in fact, photographs of the 37-year-old himself, dressed up as his relatives.
It all started when Fuchs was 10 years old.
His mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where she died five years later. His father left the family, remarried and disappeared.
Fuchs and his brother and sister were brought up by their paternal grandparents.
“I grew up with portraits and objects that had been in my family for up to five generations,” he explains.
“As a child I looked at the portraits and played with them. If I didn’t know the names of the characters, I invented them. I remember watching them for hours and feeling that they were watching me back. Sometimes I would talk to them, and eventually that led to my reinterpretations of them.”
Fuchs’s grandmother, Catalina del Carmen Silva Schilling, played a very important part in all of this. Born in Chile of German ancestors, she too was brought up by her grandparents.
“She would tell me stories about our relatives from Chile and Germany, and I learned to look at things through her eyes,” Fuchs says.
“It was magical. She told me about relatives like my granny’s great-grandmother, Marie Schencke, who also came from Germany. Her family brought electricity to the Chilean town, Osorno.”
Years later Fuchs went to university to study law, but after a few months working as a lawyer he quit to become an artist and found himself once again gazing at the portraits.
“I was looking at one of the family portraits from 1830 of Eleanora, my grandmother’s great-great-grandmother” he says.
“I began to think, ‘Considering we share the same genes, could I actually look like her?’ That afternoon I went to the hairdresser and got them to put my hair up in ringlets. I thought it was a cool idea for a new project.”
The process of reinterpreting his ancestors can take many months.
Fuchs reads their letters and talks to relatives about them. He takes photos of their portraits to a local tailor who tries to imitate the garments – some of which date back to the 18th Century – as faithfully as possible, and to a jeweller who creates replicas of the jewellery.
Dressing up as a woman can be especially problematic Fuchs says, and not only because he finds the corsets very uncomfortable.
“It’s complicated because I have to wax,” he says, “and I have tons of hair.”

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