Israel divided over sculpture of Sharon in a coma

Ariel Sharon, one of Israel's most controversial and long-standing political and military leaders, has been depicted in a life-size sculpture as he is – more than four years after being felled by a massive stroke – comatose in a hospital bed.

An Israeli artist, Noam Braslavsky, is exhibiting at the Kishon gallery in Tel Aviv the naturalistic art installation of Mr Sharon, who was in his second tumultuous term as prime minister when he suffered his stroke.

The real Mr Sharon, 82, is a few kilometres away in the Sheba Medical Centre, Tel Hashomer, where he has lain unconscious since January 2006, less than six months after he infuriated his former political allies on the hard right by withdrawing the military and more than 8,000 settlers from Gaza.

Mr Braslavsky said that the exhibit "activated the viewer to take part in an emotional process". He told ITN: "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." The artist has also been quoted as saying that the work is an "allegory of the state of Israel itself".

But Ra'anan Gissin, who worked closely with Mr Sharon as his press spokesman, said he did not want the former prime minister to be remembered as shown in the installation. "I don't want to remember Sharon as he is now – and this clearly a vivid reflection of how he is now – but as he was," Mr Gissin said. "And when 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, I would say, unique piece of art."

The Sheba Medical Centre was unable to confirm yesterday a report last month in Israel's biggest newspaper Yedhiot Ahronot that Mr Sharon would soon be moved to his home ranch in the Negev for a trial period. The paper said the move was being made at the request of Mr Sharon's sons, Gilad and Omri, and that if the trial was successful their father would be taken back permanently to a second-floor bedroom at the ranch where the necessary medical equipment had been installed.

A spokesman said yesterday that Mr Sharon was still at Tel Hashomer and that his condition had not changed.