TEL AVIV — A statuette of a pig stands at the centre of a Tel Aviv art show devoted to Israel's firebrand Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman that drew protests before it even opened on Thursday.
"I just wanted to make something very simple and clear. If you put it in the context of this exhibition, it's obvious that Lieberman is a pig," Israeli artist Zoya Cherkassky, 33, told AFP at the Beit Berl Art College gallery.
"If you take it out of context, it's just a pig," she added, pointing to her artwork.
The irreverent portrayals of the controversial ultra-nationalist minister drew smiles from the small crowd at the opening, but also sparked demands from a right-wing legal watchdog that the exhibition be shut down.
"He is being portrayed as a neo-Nazi, which is ridiculous in the Jewish state. It really is despicable," said Adrian Aggasy, a lawyer for the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel.
He claimed the invitation itself was meant to be reminiscent of Nazi Germany, using gothic-style lettering to spell the Soviet-born minister's Russian first name Evet, which is also the title of the show.
The group sent a letter to the education ministry suggesting that the show be closed and asked the government's legal adviser to examine whether "it goes against the laws against incitement to hatred and defamation," Aggasy said.
Curator Doreet LeVitte Harten dismissed the complaint as "ridiculous," but did not deny the show had more than merely artistic ambitions.
"It's an amalgamation of politics and art. Most of the people in this exhibition aren't exactly friendly towards the ideology of Lieberman, and they wish to express it," she said.
"Lieberman is someone who draws fire to himself. His ideology... I would go as far as to say they are fascistic ideas that make many people scared."
The former nightclub bouncer with a firebrand reputation for his virulent anti-Arab stance heads the far-right Yisrael Beitenu party and is seen as a "racist" by his critics and as a champion of the nationalist cause by his supporters.
A series of retouched photos at the art show depicts Lieberman as a devil-like creature with bloodshot eyes, a toothy grin and a skull-like nose.
Artist Uri Katzenstein put on a brief performance, setting on the ground a contraption made of three electric screwdrivers tied together, with metal bars as legs and festooned with bells.
The art work stumbled erratically for a short while.
"It makes noise, it runs incoherently, it doesn't know what it's doing," said LeVitte Harten.
Katzenstein said that is the point. "It relates to Mr Lieberman -- just as it relates to all of us -- because it speaks of mechanisms that go out of control."
At least one person at Thursday's opening, clad in a bright yellow T-shirt bearing the words in Hebrew "Is it art or is it left-wing?" was not amused.
"It is clear art and literature are controlled by the left," said 64-year-old retiree Haim Nitzani as he looked with distaste at the small pink papier mache pig.
"You could say it is anti-semitism."
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