Bradford Council has refused to bow to pressure from Hindu groups over an iconic piece of artwork loaned to a New York museum.

Housewives With Steak Knives created by British conceptual artist Sutapa Biswas is part of the authority’s museums and galleries collection.

It is a self-portrait of Indian-born Biswas as the multi-armed Hindu Goddess Kali and was loaned to the Neuberger Museum for a special exhibition which ended earlier this month.

Following its display, as part of the exhibition British Subjects: Identity and Self-Fashioning 1967-2009, the Forum for Hindu Awakening and Universal Society of Hinduism complained that the painting trivialises the sacred goddess.

Both groups called on the Council to stop displaying the artwork when it is returned from the exhibition in America.

Tony Stephens, the Council’s assistant director of cultural services, has now confirmed that while they have no plans to put it on display immediately, they will not rule out doing so in the future.

He said: “The painting Housewives With Steak Knives forms part of our extensive collection of eastern art and has been in the collection for more than 20 years and was displayed at Cartwright Hall for over ten years to critical acclaim.

“Sutapa Biswas produced this work in 1985 and the artistic intentions were very much about empowerment of herself as a young Indian establishing herself as an artist in England.

“The Council supports the principle of free speech through artistic expression.

“We will receive the painting back into the collection upon the close of the exhibition.”

The piece features pastels, acrylic and collage on paper, mounted on canvas. It is 2.5 metres by nearly 3 metres in size, and was added to the Council’s collection in 1994.

It was painted when the artist was still a student at Leeds University and is one of her most reproduced works.

Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, had said that inappropriate use of its religious symbols was unacceptable.

He said: “We did not understand why this artpiece was allowed to be displayed in publicly funded museums in the first place.”

And Bhavna Shinde of the Forum for Hindu Awakening wrote to the Council calling for the painting to be withdrawn from display.

He said: “It hurts the religious sentiments of the devout Hindu community that looks upon any representation or depiction of a deity as sacred.”