Middle East

Animated Ariel Sharon coma sculpture on show in Israel

A life-size sculpture of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is due to be unveiled at a gallery in Tel Aviv.

The installation, by Israeli artist Noam Braslavsky, portrays Mr Sharon lying in a hospital bed in the coma he has been in since 2006.

Curators said the installation, which appears to breathe, was an allegory for the "inertia of Israeli politics".

Mr Sharon was one of Israel's most influential leaders. He has never recovered from a massive stroke.

The 82-year-old remains in hospital in Tel Aviv, having never regained consciousness after suffering the stroke four years ago.

The animated sculpture will be on display to the public in a darkened room at the Kishon art gallery from Thursday.

It shows Mr Sharon lying in a bed wearing pyjamas and connected to a drip.

His eyes are open and his chest rises and falls as he audibly "breathes" in and out.

Mr Braslavsky said the installation "activated the viewer to take part in an emotional process".

"I choose to take Sharon because Sharon is kind of an open nerve in Israeli society, which activated all the spectrum of emotional feelings to what being an Israeli is," he told Reuters news agency.

He defended the controversial artwork by saying Mr Sharon was not "just a private person" and still had a huge influence over everyone in Israel.

"It's my right to come to this persona and to bring him back to the headlines," he told the Associated Press.

'Vivid reflection'

In an introduction to the exhibit, curator Joshua Simon said the artwork enabled those viewing it to "rethink the political".

"Sharon's still breathing and beating body is an allegory for the Israeli political body - a dependent and mediated existence, self-perpetuated artificially and out of inertia, with open eyes that cannot see," he said.

But Raanan Gissin, a former adviser of Mr Sharon who went to an early viewing of the installation, said it was not how he wanted to remember his friend.

"I don't want to remember Sharon as he is now - and this is clearly a vivid reflection of how he is now - but as he was," he said.

"He was always active, always doing something for better or for worse, but a man in action, a man who's constantly active, constantly leading.

"So I have a problem personally with this very, very unique piece of art."

Meanwhile, medics caring for Mr Sharon at the Chaim Sheba Medical Centre in Tel Aviv said the former leader remained in a vegetative state but that his condition was stable.

"He does have periods of sleep and in the day time he opens his eyes. Sometimes the family believes there is recognition," his long-time personal physician and friend Dr Shlomo Segev told the BBC.

Dr Segev said he did not know much about the sculpture of Mr Sharon, but that "everybody will still remember him as a great man".

Mr Sharon was elected prime minister in 2001, pledging to achieve "security and true peace".

He was a keen promoter of the expansion of the state and initiated the construction of the security barrier around the West Bank.

But despite fierce opposition in Israel, he ordered Jewish settlers to leave Gaza and four settlements in the West Bank.

As defence minister, Mr Sharon masterminded Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. During the invasion, Lebanese Christian militiamen allied to Israel massacred hundreds of Palestinians in two refugee camps under Israeli control.

Mr Sharon was removed from office in 1983 by an Israeli tribunal which found him indirectly responsible for the killings.

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