CLIFTON — City officials painted over a Black fist on a mural on a Garden State Parkway overpass because too many residents complained that it was "politically motivated," the artist said.

The mural by 2020 Clifton High School graduate May Yuasa under the Garden State Parkway overpass at Allenwood Road  is titled "Use your voice" and initially included a Black fist similar to that used by Black Lives Matter.

City Manager Dominick Villano told the Daily Voice in an email that he was told by the Turnpike Authority to remove the mural. Villano told the Voice he hoped to keep the mural up and discussed with Yuasa turning the fist into a peace sign.

The Black fist was painted over on Tuesday to blend in with the background color, Villano told the Daily Voice. The other fists in various skin colors were changed into two hands shaped to make a heart and two hands shaking.

Turnpike Authority spokesman Tom Feeney told New Jersey 101.5 three or four complaints were received about the mural from individuals who identified themselves as Clifton residents.

Feeney said the Turnpike Authority they never gives permission to paint on Turnpike or Parkway structures. No one asked permission to paint on the Allenwood Road overpass, Feeney said.

Yuasa, in a post on the private Facebook group Clifton News & Community, explained that she had began working on the project when she was 17 and  worked with Villano on a design that originally had five fists with different skin tones.

Four days after the fist was painted, Yuasa said Villano asked her to change the fists because members of the community complained to the city they were "politically motivated."

"I was ordered to completely paint over the fist because of the continued outrage," Yuasa said.

The Cornell University student said she altered the design that had not yet been painted to make it more "palatable for the city and the people who complained." It's a move Yuasa said she regrets.

"I kept the fist that was part of the original approved design. After I wrote an email so they would reconsider painting over the fist but they did not," Yuasa said.

Yuasa on her Instagram account said that opponents to the mural sent threats and harassed her group of friends as they worked on the mural.

"I fail to understand how this artwork can be interpreted in such a way to excuse this kind of behavior.  This mural represents everything I love about our community," Yuasa said.

Yuasa and Villano on Wednesday afternoon did not respond to New Jersey 101.5's request for more information.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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