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Artist Gena Marvin turns his childhood trauma into nightmarish drag looks

TextDominic Cadogan

The Russian creative uses the fear and violence from his past as a starting point for his beautifully horrifying creations

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Growing up, Russian artist Gena Marvin always knew he was different. The problem was that everybody else knew too, making him the victim of merciless torment and physical violence growing up in a small town. 

While such trauma would make some people want to give up, Marvin uses his to fuel his creativity – the only solace he found during his difficult childhood. “The memories of my life there give me horrible feelings,” he tells us. “There, I was always a kind of whipping boy. I had three concussions and almost all of my teeth ended up on the streets of that village.”

First experimenting with drag in the bathroom – hastily removing it when his parents demanded he come out – Marvin’s creativity went into overdrive during lockdown, bringing a childhood monster to life. From there, he has continued experimenting with the concepts of ‘beauty’ and ‘drag’. 

Often transforming his small frame into a gargantuan silhouette, Marvin’s creations are beautifully terrifying with long spindly fingers that trail down past his knees and have humps, lumps, and horns emerging from every direction. No longer confined to the bathroom, Marvin regularly ventures out in his looks, much to the horror and delight of local residents. 

“When I went out for the first time, I became a target and adults texted horrible things wishing me death. Their children were completely different; they took pictures with me and said lots of nice things” – Gena Marvin

The nature in Magadan is insanely beautiful so I wanted to take pictures of my drag with all this beauty around me,” he explains. “When I went out for the first time, I became a target and adults texted horrible things wishing me death.” He did, however, notice a difference in attitude from the younger generation. “Their children were completely different; they took pictures with me and said lots of nice things.” This is the artist’s hope for the future, that the next generation will lift up and celebrate creatives of all types, instead of causing them further pain. 

Here, we speak to Gena about finding beauty in trauma, self-acceptance, and why he relates to Slenderman.

Where are you from and where do you live? 

Gena Marvin: Russia is my home. I live in Saint Petersburg, but I come from Magadan, which is located on the shores of the sea of Okhotsk. I lived in a small village, where people mostly do fishing. There are around 6,000 people and only one school, that is very bad. I was always surrounded by aggressive straight people and the incomprehension sucks. 

What is it you do and how did you get into it?

Gena Marvin: In ninth grade I found a kind of salvation in cosmetics – it helped a lot. In the evenings, I would lock myself in the bathroom and do my make-up. It was awkward when my parents would ask me to leave the bathroom and I’d have to clean off my face with soap and wipes in seconds. Back then, I was doing quite basic make-up, a little bit of foundation, mascara on the lashes, and lipstick. As time passed, I understood where I belonged and the world of drag opened up to me.

What are you trying to communicate through your work and why?

Gena Marvin: For a long time, I couldn’t understand what I was doing and what emotions people had when looking at my art. However, the lockdown really helped me a lot. I locked myself down from the whole world and began to realise what I wanted to create. In my mind, I came across the look of a creature that made me shiver down my spine. When I first shared my looks on Instagram and TikTok, I received the feedback I was dreaming about and it became a kind of indicator for me. I like the idea that people can feel various emotions from anger to fear or happiness when looking at my art. It evolved from provocation to behaviour analysis. 

What’s been your career highlight so far and what do you hope to accomplish ultimately?

Gena Marvin: I want my own exhibition and to appear on the cover of a magazine. 

What are you working on at the moment? 

Gena Marvin: I have a lot of thoughts about future ideas/shoots and I’m really concentrating on it at the moment. I also recently returned from a trip to Magadan and I’m playing a lead in a documentary about drag. The director wanted me to film with my family and talk to them about what I do (spoiler alert: my parents don’t accept what I do) but I personally didn’t want to just sit and talk about that stuff. 

What does beauty mean to you?

Gena Marvin: For me, beauty is about the full acceptance of your reflection in the mirror. It’s also non-flying weather, or very cold weather. The shine, the depth. Black is beautiful. Everything is. Everything that is and isn’t beautiful is beauty for me; being stylish and bold is pure art. 

Describe your beauty aesthetic in three words.

Gena Marvin: My aesthetics… I guess, lines, volume, and contrast. 

How do you assert your identity and experiences through your beauty?

Gena Marvin: Through my childhood fears and traumas. My scary weekdays when I was a child. So many factors from my childhood define me now. 

What’s your favourite smell and why?

Gena Marvin: Santal 33 by Le Labo, it’s the best fragrance that defines me. 

Which fictional character do you most relate to and why?

Gena Marvin: Slenderman is probably the only thing I can compare to now! On the whole, I am Bubble played by Rihanna in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. I like it all and I want to try it all. 

When do you feel most beautiful?

Gena Marvin: I can’t say there are moments in my life when I feel more or less beautiful. In my mind, the concept of beauty is equal to the concept of mental health and I feel quite balanced now. 

How do you want to change the world?

Gena Marvin: There are so many things in this world that should be fixed. Unfortunately, all I can do is create new forms of art. 

You’re the editor of a time-travelling beauty journal 100 years from now, what beauty trends are you reporting on? 

Gena Marvin: 100 years? It’s so strange to even imagine what there would be. I hope that by that time we would have recycled all the plastic and the trend would simply be life. The more time passes, the less humanity remains in this cruel world. 

You have to donate a feature/limb of your body to an icon of yours. You get nothing in return. What feature/limb do you give and why?

Gena Marvin: The limb I can easily get rid of is my dick. 

If you had to choose one surgical enhancement, what would it be and why?

Gena Marvin: There would be two of them, at least. First of all, rhinoplasty. My nose really suffered from all these school fights. I was also bullied for my protruding ears, so I would make them look like Dumbo as they’re very beautiful. 

What is the future of beauty?

Gena Marvin: Self-acceptance. It looks like something you can put off until the next morning or go back to in an hour, but seriously, complete self-acceptance makes this world better – love runs the world! 

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