World leaders and cultural icons revamped as hipsters

November 20, 2017

What’s Happening

Israeli artist Amit Shimoni gives political and cultural figures fashionable facelifts for free.

Amit Shimoni has done the impossible. This Israeli designer-illustrator is making people smile when they see politicians.

Shimoni, 29, is the artist behind Hipstory, an illustrated series that depicts world leaders as hipsters and fashionistas—from Hillary Clinton to Theodor Herzl, Barack Obama to George Washington, David Ben- Gurion to Angela Merkel, Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin, Nelson Mandela to Mao Zedong.

Formal suits and ties are replaced with tank tops, denim, studded vests, and Hawaiian shirts.

“Part of the purpose in drawing them like this was to make people look at these leaders and smile,” Shimoni tells ISRAEL21c from his Tel Aviv studio. “I want people to reflect on our leaders, our society and ourselves.”

One of Nelson Mandela’s grandchildren wrote to Shimoni that he loved the way the Israeli designer-illustrator drew his grandfather, sporting a flattop hairstyle and a tropical-print bomber jacket.

“That was cool to hear his family liked it,” Shimoni says. “My project is not about making fun of the leaders but rather instigating a conversation about our society.”

His drawings grace the walls of local bars and homes, and appear on coasters, pillowcases, coffee mugs, smartphone skins and keychains.

Earlier this year, Laurence King Publishing released a book of 20 Shimoni postcards accompanied by made-up cheeky bios written by London-based writer Stephen Ellcock, Hipstory: Why be a World Leader When You Could be a Hipster?

“The texts are very funny and they give a new meaning to the illustrations,” Shimoni tells ISRAEL21c.

Shimoni tells ISRAEL21c that he had just uploaded a drawing of David Ben-Gurion to his Facebook page—to see what his friends thought of his idea to base his graduate project on the first Israeli prime minister in modern-day style—when someone who resembled the visionary behind modern Zionism appeared on his Facebook feed.

“I saw someone who looked just like Herzl; it was unbelievable,” he says. “And then I started thinking about a modern Herzl hipster. And from there I moved to Moshe Dayan and Golda Meir. The project eventually turned into 12 Israeli faces.”

Meant to be a final art-school project at the prestigious Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, this was actually the beginning of Shimoni’s career.

Everyone who saw the illustrations of Ben-Gurion in a pink button-down pineapple shirt, Herzl sporting an earring and a wave in his hair, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in a colorful bohemian shirt, and Shimon Peres in a yellow hoodie, wanted more.

So, Shimoni decided to dress up other world leaders in an “attempt to create new and altered portraits of iconic figures of the 20th century, by placing them in different time and culture.”

A wave of requests
For International Women’s Day in March 2015, Shimoni released a new version of the series—called Shepstory, a contraction of “she” and “Hipstory”—featuring female world leaders including Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir and Queen Elizabeth II.

Starting in Israel
Although starting in a small country with a limited audience can be difficult for new artists, Shimoni says Israel was exactly the right place for him to launch.

“The interaction in Israel is very personal. People want to be friends here, so people told me what they think and I got important feedback,” he says about his early drawings.

Shimoni grew up in Kfar Sirkin, Sirkin, a moshav in central Israel near Petah Tikva, completed his college studies in Jerusalem, and now lives in Tel Aviv with his wife and their dog.

Shimoni says he regularly hears from art museums and design stores about how much people like his illustrations. Many teachers tell him that they use his illustrations in their history classes.

Printed with permission from the writer. Article originally posted on Israel21c (an online resource) on March 29, 2017. To read the full article, go to Israel21c.org.

All works at the Simon Family JCC’s Leon Family Gallery are available for purchase with proceeds benefitting the cultural arts department of the Simon Family JCC.

- Viva Sarah Press

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