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Controversy, Confusion Impact Status Of Mural On Road Under Garden State Parkway In Clifton

CLIFTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- A northern New Jersey mural is causing controversy and could soon be taken down.

The artist says she volunteered to do it to unite area residents, but now she's dealing with a backlash, CBS2's Lisa Rozner reported Sunday.

The mural under the Garden State Parkway on Allwood Road is the one in question, and, ironically, its theme is "Use your voice." Some people did, complaining to the town about it.

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Originally, the mural was supposed to show fists of all skin colors side by side, but Clifton residents told Rozner when the artist began painting the first fist, which was a darker skin tone, that's when there were some complaints that the artwork was politically motivated.

"Originally, the design was to celebrate Clifton's diversity and I would say all my friends since we grew up here we would be really proud of Clifton's diversity and how inclusive we are and I just wanted to celebrate that," said artist May Yuasa, who was born and bred in Clifton.

Yuasa then changed two of the fists into hands making a heart and two others became a handshake.

But Yuasa did not change the Black fist, so the city manager had it painted over with a white box.

The city manager told Rozner, "The fist is what triggered the controversy. Whether it's a Black or white fist, they both idealize the same, and it's not whether I want them; it's what I can allow under my purview as the city manager."

"The original design, it was fists raised and it was all these different colors raised to show solidarity, unity," Yuasa said.

"They could be offended because this thing, this fist business, had a connotation where it goes back to where it was Black power and, of course, when you box you use a fist and it has gotten a lot of bad press," said Ellyn Aronson of Lyndhurst.

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The city manager did give permission for Yuasa and her friends to paint the mural initially because he thought it was a positive message. Yuasa and her friends volunteered and even had supplies donated.

The artist posted a video on Instagram about the situation recently.

"This mural celebrates our town and all the opportunities that were given to us," Yuasa said. "Rather than communicating with me, they have resorted to emails, threats and one-sided harassment while we painted."

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Now, it turns out the mural is on the property of the Turnpike Authority, which runs the Garden State Parkway. A spokesperson said the agency does not allow paint on any of its bridges and the mural must come down.

"I would like to see them leave it. There are other signs on property of theirs and now it's like, 'Oh, we're going to get rid of this one.' It was supposed to be a positive message about unity and coming together and the fist was a symbol of solidarity," Clifton resident Keith Aymar said.

On Wednesday there will be a council meeting in Clifton to determine the future of the mural, and if it can be painted elsewhere.

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