Claudia Ruiz Gustafson


Lima, Peru

María is a symbolic exercise of memory and imagination. While reflecting on my story, I noticed there was one important person missing from my family narrative; a live-in maid my parents hired when we moved to the suburbs of Lima when I was seven. She doesn’t appear in any family portrait and sadly, we don’t have record of her last name or birthday. Domestic help in Perú is usually hired without written contracts, so my attempts to locate her in the past were futile. Her name was María, and she eventually left us to start a family of her own. It was a sad departure for me because María had been my confidante, my friend, and my teacher, during a vulnerable time in my life. She sang to me in Quechua, she grew chamomile flowers for my anxiety; performed “curas del huevo” (egg cures) and taught me simple yarn games.

I created this series in my family home in Barranco, Lima and in María’s home town of Villa El Salvador, also in Lima to photograph the streets where she might have walked to create composites in which I reflect on the double life she lived. Traveling to María’s hometown helped me connect with her memory and reflect on the sacrifices she made as a young woman who left her home to make a living. For this body of work, I worked with a woman whose name, coincidentally, was also María. For weeks we collaborated in the house where my parents still live today. Together we explored the same walls, the same floors, and the same light that entered the same windows that my María experienced. The furniture and ornaments that she touched have remained unchanged over the years.

Through this project, I attempt to honor an important woman from my childhood, the unconditional love that she gave me and the sacrifices she made. I end this series with a constructed photo of María decorated with yarn, the missing photo in my family album created as a symbolic reparation.

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  • María

  • El día que me salvaste (The day you saved me)

  • Tus calles mientras dormías (Your streets while you slept)

  • Desde mi ventana (From my window)

  • Bajo el mismo sol (Under the same sun)

  • Mi parque (My park)

  • Mi reina (My queen)

  • La sala (The living room)

  • El lugar donde convergen los sueños (The place where dreams converge)

  • El sueño de María (Maria’s dream)

  • El primer día de verano (The first day of summer)

  • El patio de mi madre (My mother’s patio)

  • Tus calles mientras jugabas (Your streets while you played)

  • Bajo el mismo cielo (Under the same sky)

  • El juego de lana (Cat’s cradle)

  • El jarrón blanco (The white vase)

  • La pasada de huevo (The egg cure)

  • La estampita (Prayer card)

  • La promesa (The promise)

  • La lavandería (The laundry place)