A gilded statue of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, erected in a Tel Aviv square and dubbed "King Bibi" by its guerrilla-artist creator, stirred bemusement from passersby and condemnation from Israel's culture minister on 12.6.2016.
Sculptor Itay Zalait told reporters he had placed the four meter (13 foot) -tall effigy of Netanyahu on a white pedestal in Rabin Square, adjacent to city hall, to test the limits of freedom of expression in Israel.
The Israeli government and artists have been locked in a so-called "culture war" over steps by Culture Minister Miri Regev to withhold state funds from institutions that do not express loyalty to the state.
Posting on Facebook after the sculpture was erected, Regev called it an "expression of hatred towards Netanyahu". Tel Aviv municipal officials ordered Zalait to remove the statue and said they would haul it away and fine him if he refused.
Morning commuters quickly gathered to snap photos and debate whether the statue should be seen as mockery of Netanyahu or homage to the right-wing prime minister, now in his fourth term and known by his childhood nickname "Bibi".
One woman bowed down in jest in front of the statue, which Zalait said took him three months to sculpt.
"In the social media, there have been tens of thousands of comments about 'King Bibi'," Zalait said on Army Radio when asked what had inspired him to create the statue.
"I simply made it a reality and put it in its deserved place, the Kings of Israel Square," he said, referring to the plaza's name before it was changed to honor Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister assassinated by an ultranationalist Jew during a peace rally there in 1995.
One passerby, Nina Lobel, said the portrayal of Netanyahu was "horrendous" in that the artist had wanted "to show him as a dictator".
Netanyahu and his wife Sara have drawn legal scrutiny and frequent headlines over whether state funds have been used to support what critics decry as their lavish lifestyle.Both have denied any misuse of taxpayers' money.
zalait is a sculptor and a painter. He creates sculptors, installations and paintings using a wide range of materials and techniques. He uses humor and sarcasm to point out automatic and unaware aspects dealing with the freedom of choice.
Zalait holds a fine arts BA degree from the Beit Berl College Arts School, and B.A in Psychology from the open university.
Materiality is at the heart of Zalait's work. He goes “hunting” for objects such as discarded toys and pieces of wood, and they provide the raw materials for my next project. The process in the studio is one of going over, and flirting with these materials until a spark of inspiration ignites a new work of art. Zalait often cut, brake, deform, and burn my materials in order to test the boundaries of familiar objects. The way he sees it, this process creates a new order that is an implementation of freedom of choice.
The process of searching is integral to the work of an artist. Zalait search for materials that have their own history embedded within them, and he facilitate their transition into a new stage of existence. The process of searching has been an important element in Zalait's personal life as well, and not just in his artwork. A search for the real and authentic amongst a sea of falseness and fraud, and a search for freedom of choice within them.
This essence is reflected in Zalait's work of art, creating a space where in a blink of an eye the observer receives a perspective on our crooked existence, and moreover, of the alternate truth available out there.
Itay Zalait (b.1979), lives and works in Tel-Aviv, graduated from The Faculty of Arts - “Hamidrasha” at Beit Berl College and obtained a B.A in Psychology from the open university. His works is held in museum and private collections such as Tel Aviv Museum, Ashdod museum and Yearot hacarmel hotel.