Sculpture of comatose leader stirs Israeli emotion

AP News
Posted: Oct 19, 2010 6:27 PM
Sculpture of comatose leader stirs Israeli emotion

A lifelike sculpture of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is stirring high emotions among Israelis.

Sharon, the tough army general turned politician who led Israel during the trying years of the second Palestinian uprising and uprooted Israeli settlers from Gaza in 2005, suffered a devastating stroke on Jan. 4, 2006, that has left him comatose for nearly five years.

An art exhibit opening this week in Tel Aviv, which features a wax figure-like sculpture of Sharon in his hospital bed, has enraged his political supporters.

"There's no art here, only sickening voyeurism," said Yoel Hasson, a parliament member from Sharon's Kadima party.

"This is not the way I would like to remember Sharon," said Raanan Gissin, Sharon's former adviser and confidant, after visiting the Tel Aviv art gallery where the sculpture is exhibited. "I think Sharon would say, 'I would rather not be remembered, than be remembered that way.'"

Gissin, who serves as a family spokesman, said Sharon's two sons had no comment.

Gissin said he frequently visits the Tel Aviv hospital ward where Sharon is treated, but cannot bring himself to look at the former premier in his current state.

"He's neither alive nor dead. It's very tragic," Gissin said.

Sharon's family plans to move the former prime minister to his private ranch in southern Israel, where he will continue to be closely supervised by medical staff, Gissin said.

Israeli artist Noam Braslavsky said he created the sculpture because Sharon has been absent from the public eye for so long.

"There is a national consensus that no one touches his image," said Braslavsky. "I'm touching an open nerve."

Braslavsky said the comatose statue, whose chest moves up and down to depict Sharon's dependence on a breathing machine, represents Israel's inertia on improving the country's political situation.

"It's an allegory about the state of Israel's state of existence, hanging between the heavens and the earth," Braslavsky said.

The artwork portrays Sharon's eyes open, "but they don't see. It's reminiscent of the state of our government," Braslavsky said.

Braslavsky said he has received a wide range of reactions. He said he understood the angry responses, but said some visitors have thanked him for depicting a legendary figure whom they miss.