Leon Fernandes holds his controversial artwork 'Krishna in Erskineville' in his Newtown studio. Credit: Georgia Clark

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BY GEORGIA CLARK

Angry members of the Hindu community have taken their campaign against an artwork depicting Lord Krishna holding a meth pipe to Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore.

The President of the Universal Hindu Society, Rajan Zed, sent an email to Lord Mayor Clover after running a petition against the artwork last week.

Mr Zed said in a statement that the exhibition “trivialized the [sic] Hinduism’s highly revered deity Lord Krishna.”

A City of Sydney spokesperson said the council doesn’t have authority to disallow the exhibition.

“The City of Sydney has no authority to control the content of exhibitions in private galleries,” she said.

The artist behind the work, Leon Fernandes, described the artwork as a self-portrait that expresses his identity as an Australian artist from Indian descent and a former methamphetamine user.

Mr Fernandes recognises that artwork is controversial.

“I’m unashamedly sacrilegious in my art. Not only towards Hinduism, but towards other religions as well,” he said.

“I’m a controversial person so if I’m going to be authentic it’s going to be controversial.”

Prasanth Ramkumar, Founder and Former President of the University of Sydney Hindu Society, said he hasn’t spoken to a single Hindu who isn’t offended by the artwork.

“Krishna is worshipped by billions and the form is quite important it’s a point of worship, of meditation as well… we question the motives of the artist in portraying [Lord Krishna] in this way,” he said.

Mr Fernandes said he hoped the artwork would take the stigma away from methamphetamine use and labelled the calls to disallow the artwork an infringement on free speech.

“The way ice is depicted isn’t representative of most ice users and my use has spanned from enjoyable to mediocre to terrible… I don’t want to advertise use of drugs but i certainly want to change the tone of conversation,” he said.

Tamara Winikoff, Executive Director of the National Association for the Visual Arts, said the artwork isn’t illegal.

“NAVA takes the position that unless art is breaking the law then there shouldn’t be any constraints on the work or the artist in producing the work.

“In this case, I can’t see that it is going to be breaking the law in any way,” she said.

While the Hindu community has taken offence to the artwork, Mr Ramkumar said disallowing the artwork would be a step too far.

“Sensitivities of the community are not a valid reason not to pursue art,” he said.

The artwork is selling for around $520.00 at an exhibition at East Sydney Doctors set to run until March 20.

Gordon R. Carmichael, Curator of the ESD Gallery, said Fernandes’s work has been selling every day since the exhibition opened.

“By the time it gets discussed and debated, the show will be over. They’ve left it a little too late and I don’t think we’re going to pull it down based on an email to Clover Moore,” he said.