Israeli illustrator and designer Amit Shimoni had a random realization about the formal images world leaders present to the public, a reflection that ended up inspiring a pierced and tattooed President Obama, a mohawked Dalai Lama, and a purple-bobbed Hilary Clinton.
"The history of the last century is heavily defined by its prominent figures – the main leaders who shaped the course of history. I often find myself imagining a world where some of these leaders are less interested in influencing lives, and more focused on their own persona," Shimoni tell us from his home in Jaffa. "Imagine Gandhi obsessing about his looks? Or Abraham Lincoln searching for a hip bar?"
Shimoni, a graduate of Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, is someone who believes anything can be turned into an illustration that ping-pongs between reality and his fun-loving imagination, and so for the Hipstory series he describes above, he sought to evoke the individualism of global historical figures not by spotlighting the merits of their civic actions but rather by inventing a wicked fashion sense for each one. "I put hints of the history, ideology, and background of these characters," he says, "as i tried to show how everyone is becoming more distinct from their collective identity, or from their meta ideology."
Shimoni explains that Hipstory started as an exploration of Israeli leaders, as he contemplated the difference between someone like, say, Benjamin Zeev Herzl, who was kicking around with a big old beard in the late 1800s, contrasted with images of young Israeli men today. So what if he did a mashup of the founder of the state of Israeli's face and modern metrosexual style? The result was a colorful, fun portrait of a statesman who would make any 2015 urban lumberjack go green with envy.
"In our time and culture, the ‘big’ ideologies are lost — we have grown tired, or perhaps too smart, to follow big systems of absolute ideas and beliefs," Shimoni says. "But have we lost something in this process? With nothing to hold on to, we are becoming global beings, focused more on our individual selves and less on society and ideology." He adds that Hipstory isn't a criticism of this trend, but rather a way to "shed new light on the way we think of ourselves and the figures who inspire us."
Shimoni adds that the public's positive response has inspired him to continue the project. "You couldn't believe the reaction," he says. "It was amazing. Everyone had something to connect with. "
His fans also likely connected with the fact that an important component of the Hipstory series is that the portraits remain affordable. This refection of youth culture is available to a young demographic that can't throw down art collector cash. "I exhibit mostly in small galleries and pubs," he says, "and I sell copies of the illustrations online. I see no shame in doing art that is sold for relatively cheap prices, but really can be seen at everyone's houses, i.e. the hippy student and the middle-aged Nouveau riche person." He adds that beyond the pop culture value of the work, he hopes to grow the educational merits of these conversation-provoking portraits. "A few schools in Israel have already used Hipstory in history and civics classses," he says.
His favorite character in the series so far? Abraham Lincoln. "He was my first, and he is the oldest," Shimoni says. "He is so detached from the hipster scene, and even in his look you can see that he is not related to this whole thing at all. And to tell you the truth, I think some of today's hipsters are also detached from their identity, yet they keep it anyway."
With nearly two dozen Hipstroy potraits to his name, Shimoni is currently turning his focus towards French leaders, among other countries. "I was thinking of a Ukraine figure," he adds, "but I am having real trouble deciding who it is going to be. Maybe your audience should decide." Thoughts, Shimoni fans?