Ambassador steps into Buddha row

The religious row over Norfolk's fruity Buddha reached international proportions last night as a Sri Lankan ambassador ordered the removal of the controversial sculpture.

The religious row over Norfolk's fruity Buddha reached international proportions last night as a Sri Lankan ambassador ordered the removal of the controversial sculpture.

Despite a plea from the deputy high commissioner of the predominantly Buddhist country, Norwich gallery owner David Koppel pledged to continue exhibiting the work of art.

In a letter to Mr Koppel, Ganegama Arachchi says: "The high commission continues to receive complaints from Buddhists living in the UK, expressing their anger and displeasure about the way in which the Buddha statue is sculptured and displayed.

"They have requested the high commission to seek the intervention of relevant authorities in the UK to prevent the display of this controversial sculpture."

The now infamous £125,000 Colin Self piece depicts the icon with a food offering of a banana and two eggs arranged provocatively in its lap.

Norfolk police's hate crime unit launched an investigation after complaints from the public when it was exhibited in the window of the St Giles Street Gallery.

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The force has since reached a compromise with Mr Koppel who agreed to move it further inside the gallery and a spokesman said there were no remaining concerns from the police perspective.

However, the commissioner's letter goes on to state that freedom of expression should not outweigh religious sensibilities.

It reads: "It should be stressed that freedom of artistic expression should not be misused to disrespect religions and their founders.

"It is also believed that freedom of artistic expression should not be in conflict with religious beliefs under any circumstances.

"It is necessary to strike a right balance between freedom of art and that of religion for ensuring better understanding and relations among diverse cultural and religious groups in society.

"Your action to withdraw this controversial statue from the art gallery would undoubtedly reflect your sincere commitment towards respecting religions and promoting interfaith relations in society."

Mr Koppel told the EDP that he intended to respond to the letter politely refusing to remove the statue.

He said: "I have said all along that this is a statue that is worthy of public display and I am not about to change that view.

"The police say they are satisfied now the sculpture has been removed from the window and I have spoken to members of the community who are in full support of my stance.

"I have had more public interest in the gallery than ever and at the weekend you can see people at the window attempting to get a glance of the Buddha."

The three-foot bronze statue forms the centrepiece of Norwich-

based Self's A Trilogy: The Iconoclasts.

The exhibition also features Hindu elephant god Ganesh sitting beneath a Nazi helmet and a Christ figure crucified on the back of a flying bomber.

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