In a pastel-tinged illustration by Israeli artist Amit Shimoni, Queen Elizabeth II sits with a wide grin on her face and a floral crown on her head. She wears a sleeveless blouse and a monogrammed necklace that pokes out from beneath her collar, proclaiming her title in curly gold letters: “Queen.” The drawing is a far cry from the stiff, formal portraits that have long been the standard fare of Britain’s royal family — and that is precisely the point.
Shimoni’s drawing of the Queen is one of four portraits that make up SHEPSTORY, an illustrated series that pays tribute to the enduring legacies of powerful women by rendering them in the styles of the young and hip.
SHEPSTORY is the second phase of an artistic project that the 27-year-old artist started while he was a student at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem. Titled HIPSTORY, the original project saw Shimoni create portraits of political greats reimagined as hipsters. In Shimoni’s drawings, some of history’s most iconic personalities shed suits and ties for bomber jackets and shades. Abraham Lincoln wears a purple blazer. Nelson Mandela sports a towering, grey flattop. Valdimir Lenin boasts a studded vest.
Shimoni soon realized, however, that his portfolio of portraits skewed heavily towards male historical figures. He decided to launch an all-female series in honor of International Women’s Day, but found the process more challenging than he had anticipated. When it came to female political players whose images would be instantly recognizable to a wide audience, the pool of possible subjects for his portraits was limited.
“The series that I made for International Woman’s Day prompted me to think about the fact that fewer women than men have taken on key roles in prominent positions throughout history,” Shimoni said in an interview with Women in the World. “There have been plenty of influential women in history — like Rosa Parks, for example — but their culture didn’t allow them to occupy political positions.”
Ultimately, Shimoni settled on four women who have made a lasting imprint on the political sphere: Queen Elizabeth II, Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, and Golda Meir. As he did with HIPSTORY, Shimoni chose to depict personalities that span the political spectrum. Yet the artist said that the primary focus of his illustrations is not on the subjects, but on the viewer — or more specifically, on the so-called “Generation Y.”
“I was born with my identity and my belonging, and I turned into a global user in the global world,” Shimoni explained. “Within hipsters themselves, there is a paradox: They’re always trying to be the newest, the coolest, the most unique, but in essence, everybody is doing the same thing … I wanted to [contrast that with] people who accomplished a lot, and who had a lot of influence, and who had opinions that were very powerful.”
Implicit in this juxtaposition is praise. If HIPSTORY and SHEPSTORY are somewhat sardonic reflections on Shimoni’s peers, they are also homages to the sort of conviction and spirit that has existed, and continues to exist, in select individuals across the ages.
Shimoni’s SHEPSTORY illustrations in particular are playful, affectionate representations of women who successfully shattered the barriers of male-dominated worlds. Shimoni’s portrait of Angela Merkel depicts the German Chancellor in the “spirit of a Berliner.” She wears a black trimmed jacket, purple fedora and thin, hooped nose ring. His Golda Meir strikes a conversational look, half her head shaved, a cigarette in her hand. The portrait is a tribute to one of Israel’s more robust Prime Ministers, revealed by comparisons and contrasts.
“Golda was a very worldly and energetic woman,” Shimoni said. “She also liked to smoke a lot. She is the only one out of all my portraits who is raising her hand. I wanted to make her look like someone who is sitting in a cafe, talking to her friends [in order to] illustrate the contrast between Golda and a girl who sits and talks about politics … but who doesn’t really make an effort to do anything.”
Though Shimoni always strives to tap into some aspect of his subjects’ personae, his main objective is to put forth representations of iconic personalities that are far removed from their real-life aesthetic. And so Shimoni’s Margaret Thatcher wears a sheer top and a leopard-print bra, her signature coiffed hair relaxed into a wavy bob. “I wanted to take Margaret, an English woman who had a reputation of being very cold and very harsh, and to transform her into someone who is easygoing,” Shimoni said.
He took a similar approach with Queen Elizabeth II, reimagining the ever-unimpeachable monarch as a smiling, almost girlish figure, crowned with a soft wreath of flowers. “The Queen, in my mind, seemed suited to a girl who is very fine, like an angel,” Shimoni said. “She came from royalty, and everything is lovely, and beautiful and clean. But I also wanted to render her in a different way [from how she is normally perceived] … In general, that’s the most compelling thing: To get a new perspective on someone who tends to be viewed in a specific way.”
View more of Shimoni’s illustrations below:
This interview has been translated from Hebrew.