Clifton paints over portion of unity mural featuring Black fist for being too political
The city of Clifton has painted over a portion of a mural meant to commemorate unity after some complaints that it was too political in nature.
The young artist who designed the mural under the Allwood Street overpass says that politics played no part in her art and that the painting was supposed to be about unity and diversity.
“I think art inspires people and it inspires me too. So I wanted to paint something nice for the community during my summer break,” says Clifton artist May Yuasa.
The mural is named “Raise Your Voice” and was painted with the help of 15 volunteers. It depicts several hands forming the shapes of hearts. It was also supposed to feature five fists of different skin tones raised in support, solidarity and unity.
Yuasa, 19, is a Clifton High School graduate and is now a sophomore at Cornell University. She says that her original design for the mural including the fists was approved by Clifton officials. But when the first fist went up – the Black one – some passersby complained to city hall, claiming it was too political. Others came straight to the young artists as they painted.
“We received a lot of verbal harassment – some aggressive pushback,” says volunteer Andrea Dubbels. “People were treating us very disrespectfully and in a demeaning manner and acting like we were ignorant.”
Yuasa says she redesigned most of the painting, but kept the Black fist, hoping to spark conversation. But the city painted over the fist instead – leaving the young artists and supporters disheartened and disappointed.
“Their message was inclusive. Their message was unity and it was not political unless you see it as political,” says supporter JoAnne MacBeth.
The overpass is owned by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. The agency does not allow any paintings, murals or graffiti on its properties.
“It’s a good opportunity for conversation and it’s a good way to see that we need to make a lot of improvement,” says Dubbels.
Supporters say that they hope that the mural will stay up and that its original design be reinstated.
The Clifton city manager tells News 12 New Jersey that Yuasa originally agreed to change the fist to a neutral symbol like a piece sign. He says when those changes weren't made, he had the DPW remove the fist reference.