Redeeming the Identity from the Wrong of the Past

Giving a voice to formerly denied, now recognized non-binary identities is the theme that Brazilian duo Rodrigo Pinheiro and Gal Cipreste Marinelli explore in their autobiographical series GH, Gal And Hiroshima, the winner of the PHmuseum 2021 Photography Grant.

Giving a voice to formerly denied, now recognized non-binary identities is the theme that Brazilian duo Rodrigo Pinheiro and Gal Cipreste Marinelli explore in their autobiographical series GH, Gal And Hiroshima, the winner of the PHmuseum 2021 Photography Grant.

They were on their way home from school when they became the target of a stone throwing—just one of the many intimidations, perhaps the most blatant, that Rodrigo Pinheiro endured during their childhood, the cost for being different.

Twenty years later, Pinheiro and Gal Cipreste Marinelli, a Brazilian duo in photography and life, returned to Vila da Penha’s neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, where the misdeed took place, looking for those stones to take home and transform into pieces of art.

The process was cathartic. The stones—evocative of a heavy past, reminders of discrimination—became a transformational object for a new narrative. “The stones were the only thing I could physically possess from that period,” Pinheiro recalls, “because everything else was lived in secret.”

A new journey began, culminating in the making of GH, Gal And Hiroshima, a rewriting of such narratives from a painful childhood, bringing new recognition of the children they were and the adults they’ve become.

The duo met a few years earlier while working on a project about the presidential elections. Now partners in work and life, Pinheiro and Cipreste Marinelli’s stories, approaches, and mindsets complement and amplify their experience, existence, and purpose.

Whereas Pinheiro has a more subtle approach, reflective of the difficulties they overcame to assert himself, Cipreste Marinelli showed a different temperament, more confrontational and direct.

“Seeing this person being outspoken and even aggressive, in a way of asserting an existence, confronting, fighting for being seen, it was the perfect response,” Pinheiro says of Cipreste Marinelli.

A curious coincidence brought Pinheiro and Cipreste Marinelli even closer. Born on the day the U.S. dropped the A-bomb on Japan, Pinheiro has adopted the nickname of ‘Hiroshima’ since childhood. Cipreste Marinelli were born on the same day as the American president who launched the bomb, a surprising coincidence that inspired the two photographers to integrate both stories.

Their union and encounter had almost metaphorical significance: “I was called Hiroshima, and somehow I felt a devastated territory in my childhood. Gal had the opposite strength—they were the metaphor of the explosion inside the family.”

With their voices in chorus, they utilized their shared creative process to reclaim their means of expression and the visual legitimacy of their non-binary gender, a new language somehow perfected by all lgbtia+ visual artists, they explain.

Many photos represent those pivotal moments: Sitting near a big window, the two photographers wear heels, legs crossed—their physicality, and their will to assert their own identity, merging. “We needed us, our bodies, to be together,” Pinheiro explains.

Another photo is also emblematic: A heeled sandal is stretched by a shoe tree, forcefully enlarged: “It’s a metaphor for adapting the world for a new thing,” Pinheiro explains. “And it has to do with pain too, because we force ourselves to wear things that are not made or supposed to [be for us]. It also refers to the violence that we have to have towards the things that we want.”

The work’s title reflects the significance of their union: GH, Gal And Hiroshima becomes a play on names and initials, also borrowing from the novel The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector, an influential book for both of them that traces the mystical experience of a personal transformation.

Their work contains religious references as well, influenced by Cipreste Marinelli’s upbringing in a devout Christian family. In one photo, Cipreste Marinelli emulates Mary Magdalene, the naked torso and melancholic look, identifying with the woman who, marked as a sinner, was spared the stones by Jesus’s intervention.

Stones appear yet again: this time wrapped in foam, to protect retroactively those defenseless children from ignorant violence.

GH, Gal And Hiroshima aims then at building “a ‘new visual anthology’ to talk about childhood,” Pinheiro explains, where the narrative is rewritten to restore justice for those traumatic events, using non-normative symbols and experiences. “When you're considering yourself a non-binary person, you look back at your childhood and see that you had absolutely no place in it.” Looking back can be in the form of photographs or the resurfacing of past moments, where events at school often carry painful memories.

On one occasion, Pinheiro recalls, the teacher asked students to form two lines, one for girls and one for boys. “[They] didn't have a line for me,” Pinheiro says. “I remember joining the boy’s line and […] people would laugh because I already had long hair, a way of moving and speaking that was very girly,” they say.

“A new visual anthology means creating this third line,” they explain. That’s the heart and purpose of GH, Gal And Hiroshima—to create a safe space that has been missing, to forge a new narrative where exclusion, judgment, discrimination, and pain are sequestered to a remote past, where identities from childhood and the present are urgently reaffirmed and celebrated in all of their glory.


All photos © Rodrigo Pinheiro and Gal Cipreste Marinelli, from the series GH, Gal And Hiroshima


Rodrigo Pinheiro and Gal Cipreste Marinelli are two Brazilian photographers and artists who live and work in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rodrigo Pinheiro's work comprises experimental shorts, film essays, and photography which they use to also explore their past experiences. Follow Pinheiro on PHmuseum and Instagram. Gal Cipreste Marinelli is a trans Non-Binary visual artist, musician, and photographer. Their research talks about themes such as inauguration of genders, fictionalism of reality, and monstruosity. Follow Cipreste Marinelli on Instagram.

Lucia De Stefani is a writer focusing on photography, illustration, culture, and everything teens. She lives in New York. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.


This article is part of the series New Generation, a monthly column written by Lucia De Stefani, focusing on the most interesting emerging talents in our community.

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