Artist Leon Fernandes was aware that his most recent exhibition might ruffle some feathers, however he had not anticipated international outrage.
“This to me is a bit of a self-portrait, and so I knew there was great opportunity for offence, but I never thought it would get this significant,” he told City Hub.
Touted as “a series of embroidered works…that cheekily represent some of the issues around ethnicity, religion, sexuality and drug use” the Krishna in Erskineville collection features Hindu gods reimagined into contemporary Australian settings.
Complaints from concerned Hindus have accused Fernandes of “trivialising” the reverence of Hindu deities, with Hindu Statesman Rajan Zed calling for the exhibition’s immediate removal in a statement early in March. The collection continued to show at ESD Gallery until its intended end date on March 20, however not without stirring up some public discussion, and much of it positive, from within the Hindu community (including publications like India Link). Especially regarding the titular work, which depicts Krishna smoking a meth pipe outside iconic queer venue the Imperial Hotel.
“I think one of my “mortal sins” according to many, including to my Indian family, is I’ve dared to portray meth as not “the demon drug”,” said Fernandes, who has worked on drug policy for over 23 years and is currently completing a masters in Health Communication.
“My specific interest is in challenging the way we talk about drugs and legislate drugs. I’m horrified by the way meth is portrayed… The sort of meth advertising we see is really stigmatising and people have reported being hesitant to seek help or treatment because of this “zombification” or “demonization” of this drug.”
Fernandes’ artworks draw on the rich tapestry of his personal and cultural identity: from his Anglo-Indian Australian heritage, to his personal history with drug use and his queerness. Opinions aside, his work is a reminder that individual experiences can be overwhelmingly different to broad stereotypes:
“I kind of like the idea of actually elevating the status of meth amphetamine to being “ok” enough for gods to consume. And absolutely I know that is controversial, and if I put a big bong or a joint in his hand I’m sure I’d still offend, but it’d be to a much lesser extent…” (AM)