Bangkok: Hardline Buddhists in Thailand called Thursday for the destruction of paintings depicting Buddha as Japanese superhero ‘Ultraman’, thereby provoking fevered debate about using sacred imagery in art.
The majority of Thais are Buddhist and a law on insulting religion carries a maximum sentence of seven years in jail even if prosecutions are rare. The student artwork went viral on social media last week after it was shown in an exhibition three hours outside the Thai capital.
The artist, whose name has been withheld by her university over safety concerns, offered a tearful apology to monks for the four paintings, some of which had a backdrop with Louis Vuitton logos.
But fringe group Buddhist Power of the Land filed a police complaint against her and four supporters for ‘hurting Buddha’s feelings’. “It’s up to the court but we want (the paintings) to be destroyed,” representative Jaroon Wannakasin told this agency Thursday.
During her apology the student said she meant to portray Buddha as a hero who protects the world like ‘Ultraman’, and that the ‘Louis Vuitton’ logos represented worldly ‘temptations’.
As the scandal hit headlines and talk shows, a collector swooped in to buy one of the controversial works showing six Buddhas as the fictional character shooting lasers from their palms for 4,500 baht (around USD 150).
The artwork quickly soared in price during a bidding war on Facebook and Pakorn Porncheewangkul resold it Thursday for 6,00,000 baht (USD 19,000).
“This picture brings controversy. I thought I should resell it and donate the money to benefit society,” Pakorn said AFP, explaining that 90 per cent of the proceeds will go to a local hospital. The remaining amount will go to the student in a gesture of support. “Otherwise no one will dare to create new art,” added Pakorn.
Buddhist nationalism in Thailand is not as politically powerful as it is in neighbouring Myanmar but a prominent case in 2017 saw a firebrand Thai monk detained for suggesting mosques be burned down.