I met Amit Shimoni by chance two months ago at Café Sankt Oberholz in Berlin’s trendy Mitte District. The café is a choice location for tourists looking to get work done, including many Israelis, who sit with their laptops, typing away in a plethora of languages. Some are writing screenplays, others filing articles or updating their blogs.
But Shimoni wasn’t writing anything. His screen displayed a portrait of outgoing President Shimon Peres. On another part of the screen, he began drawing Peres. When I asked him what he was doing, he smiled. A few clicks later, his computer displayed a full-on exhibition of what appeared to be famous Israeli historical leaders decked out in the latest hipster fashions. Golda, Begin, Moshe Dayan and others were all there, but Shimoni was still looking for new subjects.
This week, he finished the work and submitted it as his final project for the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design’s Visual Communications department, under the guidance of designer Lahav Halevy. Next month Shimoni’s work will be displayed along with the rest of the graduates’ exhibitions.
He called his work “Lost – a series of articles on the characteristics of a generation that grew up in the shadow of postmodernism.” It is comprised of 12 rather amusing portraits of former elected leaders, pictured on the cover of Haaretz’s weekend supplement, adorning fictitious articles that chronicle the superficiality and shallowness of Israeli society at the start of the 21st century.
He even chose headlines for these articles: “The word ‘selfie’ was chosen by the Oxford English Dictionary as word of the year,” “Eight of the 10 most-watched TV shows in Israel are reality shows,” “The hottest ideology in the latest election – centrism,” “2011 tent protest? Young Israelis prefer to move to Berlin.”
It’s hard to ignore Shimoni’s imagery. Herzl with an earring, Ben-Gurion with sunglasses and Rabin with highlights in his hair are only some examples of his treatment of famous Israeli leaders. But Shimoni, 27, from Jaffa, is trying to convey a message beyond the smile that can immediately be seen on anyone who glances at his work.
“We change our beliefs and our mythological leaders like they’re passing fashions. We’re no longer loyal to anything but ourselves,” he says. “As a young Israeli man who lives in a culture of excess with lots of platforms for self-expression and various opportunities for stimulation, I’ve lost the feeling of belonging to any kind of group. I feel like we’ve cut ourselves off from any kind of belonging. I feel like an entity in a global world. I feel as if I’m left with nothing to hold on to. We have too much, and we have nothing – that’s why I called my project ‘lost.’ We’ve gotten ourselves a little lost in this global world.”
His work process included reading biographies of the various leaders, watching their speeches and examining hundreds of pictures. His list of portraits includes Chaim Weizmann, Shulamit Aloni, Ariel Sharon, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Yitzhak Shamir. Peres is the only one of his subjects still alive. “Even though he has a Facebook page and uses these platforms to stay informed, Peres is a figure that represents the previous generation,” says Shimoni.
Current leaders weren’t right for his project. “I chose the previous generation because it was a generation that still had values – people who advanced agendas in various stages both before and after the state was created,” he explains. “When you look at Shulamit Aloni you can categorize her politically. You don’t need to research the woman in the picture. You have a set of preconceived notions about her. Same thing about Begin and Herzl, but today, it’s different.”
Ultimately, Shimoni is asking that those who view his work stop to think for a moment. “I’m not calling for us to shun technology and unite around any one thing. I’m only bringing up the issue for discussion, and acknowledging that our current situation is complex and confusing,” he concludes.