Amit Shimoni’s Making HIPSTORY

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This article was originally featured in tmrw magazine #23.

Gandhi’s rocking tie-dye. Justin Trudeau’s in leathers. Einstein’s inked up. They are icons as we’ve never seen them. They are Amit Shimoni’s HIPSTORY project.

What started as the Tel-Aviv based illustrator’s final academy project has snowballed into something greater as his reimagined portraits help maintain the legacies of these icons in the digital age. When deciding his initial portraits Amit had a strict criteria to ensure his work didn’t become iconoclastic caricatures.

“My first characters were the great leaders of the 20th century, people with great ideologies like Nelson Mandela, MLK, and Gandhi.”

And although they may have been chosen for their ideologies, HIPSTORY has no political agenda, wishing to cheer the person instead of the politics. Though they had often been revered as figures who had all their answer, through HIPSTORY, Amit attempts to use their reverence to ask questions about his own generation.

“I often find myself wondering how different my generation, Y generation, is from the generation of these great leaders of modern history. How different their belief system, the way they thought and what motivated them, compared to our more self-centered generation which is in a constant chase after fashion, style and trends as a way of self-expression while steering away from the big ideologies and meanings of life.

I wanted HIPSTORY to re-imagine these great leaders and place them in a different time and culture - ours. I wanted to create a sort of mirror - a mirror that on the one hand is supposed to make one smile, but on the other, to make them also think.”

An artist truly inspired by the world around him, be it a “Van Gogh piece or a song heard on the radio”, the hipster had always been a subculture of particular interest for Amit, and he has his own idea on what it entails.

“Hipster is not a specific fashion way of dressing or acting like most people would say. How I see it, it reflects the imbalance the Y generation is experiencing - while everybody around is trying hard to be more unique, in reality, it seems everybody is more and more of the same. When I am asked if I’m a Hipster I reply I’m a part of this generation”.

This idea of confirmed uniqueness is echoed in his work, as although each figure have their own distinct style, they wouldn’t look out of place amongst the customers of any independent coffee bar in any major city around the world. There are flourishes of the characters historical identity within each piece, but they only play a minor role, perhaps as not to deter from the questions Amit is attempting to pose. Barrack Obama is sporting a tattoo of a whale, in reference to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, his favourite book whilst Einstein’s ink celebrates his scientific achievement with his theory of relatively on his neck and a statue of Alfred Nobel on his forearm.

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With a new portrait released each month, Amit is keen for HIPSTORY to remain an ongoing project and uses his growing social media profile and international acclaim to source new figures.

“I try keeping the series as international as possible so I take leaders from all around the world. Sometimes I ask my followers “who should be next?” or via my website, hipstoryart.com, there is a place for people to suggest and recommend.

Some characters were born by request of my followers like Princess Diana and Kim Jong Un and some were in a more formal way. The Hilary Clinton portrait was requested by the New York Times, Putin by one of the leading TV channels in Russia and last year I asked by the campaign manager of Erna Solberg, the prime minister of Norway, to hipstorize Erna as part of her election campaign.”

The fact that Erna won the election could be in small part due to the work of Amit’s portrait. Through his work he continues to draw a global audience to history’s greats, providing questions and smiles in equal measure.

“The reactions around HIPSTORY are very positive, I think HIPSTORY speaks in an international language. I get many supporting emails from people around the world which is very heart-warming. The emails go all the way from a teacher telling me how HIPSTORY changed the way the students listen in history class, to emails from businessman how tell me how HIPSTORY "breaks the ice" when people come for meetings”.

Seeing history through an updated lens, we’re able to contemplate their legacies and at the same time discuss the ones we hope to leave behind. Hopefully ours will bring the same sort of joy that Amit’s portraits have brought the world.

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Daniel Eggleston