Wanganui Mayor Michael Laws is refusing to let his council "play censor" to a controversial exhibition at the city's Sarjeant Art Gallery featuring stylised swastikas.

One work in the exhibition - This is not a swastika nor is it a Walters - by North Canterbury artist Wayne Youle, shows several swastikas with rounded koru-shaped ends.

Mr Laws has come under pressure from war veterans' groups and private individuals to close the exhibition but said yesterday it was not the council's role to play censor.

"There are clear legal guidelines as to what is indecent or obscene and this exhibition does not breach them.

"Clearly the artist involved is out to shock and test the bounds of good taste but that in itself is not illegal."

Mr Laws said the works were "a bit childish" and people did not have to go and see the exhibition.

"The best remedy to those offended is to simply ignore.

"Works such as these are designed to create controversy - remove that element and they quickly lose their impact and their relevance."

The work in question is part of the gallery's Young Maori Contemporary Artists show, running until February 13.

Youle, a 1999 Wellington Polytechnic School of Design graduate, has previously exhibited at the Bartley Nees Gallery in Wellington, which included other works featuring swastikas.

"I have always had a genuine interest and I guess a passion for design, symbols and iconography, especially those that are somewhat universal and tend to have their own reputation, stigma and baggage," he said on the Bartley Nees Gallery website, which features images of his work.

"The fact that the infamous geometric form [swastika] has been used for hundreds of years for good rather than evil has been forgotten.

"I guess we have the German Army to thank for that."