By Alejandro Acosta
The first time I’d heard of the “Vampire Woman” was on a TV show and honestly, I didn’t give much thought to the woman who had 90 per cent of her body tattooed and modified with subcutaneous implants.
But then I was introduced to Maria Jose Cristerna in 2011 at a Body Suspension event by her manager Pepe where she was suspended with hooks placed in her upper back.
Her tattooed skin, body piercings and transformations make her look stunning, even to a person familiar with extreme body modifications. She is famous and a regular on television shows and events.
A while later I was assigned to do a story on Maria Jose, focusing more on her personal and daily life. So I asked her and she agreed to let me accompany her for a while in her life as a woman, mother, artist and friend. We ended up working together for almost a month without a set schedule. She is very busy and travels often, but during that time spent together I got to know details of her life, worthy of telling and listening to.
The simplest thing that might involve going out, like taking out the garbage or going to the farmer’s market, can become quite an ordeal. She never goes anywhere unnoticed; people ask her continuously if she really is the “Vampire Woman”. She becomes the center of attention be it in a supermarket or in a concert. She seldom picks up her kids from school herself because she is immediately accosted by crowds of parents and students. She tells me with a big laugh that her “friends and family jokingly refuse to go to the movies with her because people will come up non-stop asking for autographs or to have their picture taken with her and there is no way to enjoy a movie like that….”
She is kind and very patient with everybody but she prefers the intimacy and comfort of her home in her daily routine. Maria spends time with her four children from a previous marriage. She says that sometimes it’s hard to deal with teenagers, yet she manages to talk with them, be aware of their problems, assist them with their homework, go for strolls or eat out and her children respond with a deep sense of admiration. “I’m a traditional woman who likes to look after her family.”
Whatever time off she has, she dedicates to creating her art. She sews her clothes, does paintings and sculptures and in almost all of her pieces she includes painted eyes “They are what surrounds me, they are the others, and it’s also me looking at difficult passages of my life, not to forget that behind my peace as a woman is a past that, though less now, hurts.”
Maria is friendly, polite, and quiet. She is trained as a lawyer in a conservative society like Guadalajara. Women in her neighborhood respect her and ask her for advice. She is a lecturer in women’s groups and they share their concerns with her.
“My daughter wants a tattoo Maria, please talk to her”’, “I have a daughter who is addicted to drugs, I don’t know what to do Maria, please help me” or “My husband beats me Maria, I’m so tired.”
She knows about these problems, having gone through them herself. She lived for 10 years with an abusive and drug addicted husband until she found the courage to take their four children and leave him.
Mexico has a General Law on Women’s Access to a Life Free of Violence but it is still difficult for women to speak out as they might face an unsympathetic justice system in a country where violence against women is common, so Maria takes advantage of her position in the media, channeling to authorities the problems these women are going through.
Maria is still a little suspicious, she knows the world is not the wonderful place, “I have a lot of stars tattooed on my face as a tribute to my late mother. She always told me to look up to the stars if I had problems, and that she would be there to help me.”
David is Maria’s partner now; he wears dark clothes and his hair long, an old-style rocker with a big smile and even bigger heart. Maria’s children call him Daddy and he seems to enjoy it. They have been together for 10 years and he takes care that things at home run smoothly when she has to travel.
Maria, David, the kids and friends share a taste for heavy metal music. Her eldest daughter is about to celebrate her 15th birthday, an important date for Latin American girls as it marks their “coming-out” in society, and has asked her mother for a ticket to a Black Sabbath concert.
Maria looks at the future with caution; she is expanding her business and has opened a new tattoo parlor barely a month ago that also features a boutique offering Goth clothes and accessories. She has taught David to tattoo so he can tend to clients and take care of the store while she is traveling and attending other engagements related to her persona as “Vampire Woman”. Although she prefers to be identified as the Jaguar Woman, in concordance with her Mexican roots.
Maria’s life has changed now, she speaks of her travels to other countries “If I had been told that this would happen one day, I would have not believed it.” Her past now shows mostly in her paintings.