Bóng Ma In The Shell

If we could create a world for ourselves within the cloud that’s separate from our physical bodies, what would we look like? Would gender still define us? Would we still be human? These are ideas that drag artist Cadaver Carver is exploring in work, which combines makeup art, outré fashion styling, and digital art.

Cadaver, whose real name is Minh Giang Do, is a 22-year-old performance-based drag artist from Hanoi currently studying in Chicago. They use their face as a blank canvas for painting, deconstructing themselves in the process. “I’ve never identified with my body or face, so needed to transform myself,” Cadaver explains. “I’m reclaiming my agency over my gender.” They use bright-red calligraphy, neon neo-tribal, and goth-punk aesthetics to transform into a new being from another dimension. “It’s an ongoing performance as an alien internet celebrity who seeks to subvert the gender binary and promote my Vietnamese heritage.”

In early 2020 when COVID hit and they were trapped at home, Cadaver started experimenting with makeup art to create content for social media. This all combined well with their classes on internet culture and interest in resistance to the main social media trends. Within a year they were featured on the Dazed Beauty Instagram and had one of the most-viewed clips on TikTok.

The digital designs that expand Cadaver’s makeup and styling into the realm of world-building have been a part of their concepts from the beginning. It transforms their work into a psychedelic, Y2K waking dream generated by a conscious mainframe. “I need to put digital input into all my works because I want to be a computer—powerful, productive, and feeling no pain at all,” they say. Last year they trained a program on all their previous works to generate an endless loop of morphing pieces, then created new makeup pieces based on those results. “It’s post AI.”

Cadaver was never interested in fashion until they discovered drag and used to eschew traditionally feminine clothes. “During that time, I had internalized misogyny as taught by my family, school, and society in general,” they say. “Now, I try to deconstruct what is deemed masculine and feminine by incorporating socially-deemed feminine clothes like skirts, mesh tops, and bikinis.” Cadaver is drawn to weird indie brands like Dom Sebastian, Avavav, Ottolinger, etc. In Vietnam, they like Nirvana Streetwear, Rebelism, and Aeie. They’re also partial to Damage Group from Taiwan. Since last year Cadaver has been painting their old clothes and wearing them everywhere.

Although Cadaver’s drag persona is mainly a digital one, they wear the outfits and makeup out to raves and concerts. They do so frequently in Chicago and New York but only a couple of times in Hanoi. The public reception there was positive however, with people assuming they were cosplaying or going to a Halloween party. “As someone assigned female at birth, the general population just assumed I’m a girl putting on weird makeup. So it’s something I’m free to do,” Cadaver says. But they would only try on outfits and makeup when their parents weren’t home to avoid scrutiny. With Cadaver’s TikTok success, their parents have now embraced this new identity, even if they don’t really get it. “My mom doesn’t understand my makeup in relation to queerness. She has a businesswoman’s mind, so she told me to paint my face like a celebrity to get views. But I cling to my own style because art is more important to me than trends.”