Jersey City commissions pedestrian plaza mural then destroys it, inciting outrage from residents

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JERSEY CITY -- It was created as part of an effort to promote public art in New Jersey's second largest city, but a mural-sized painting on the pavement of the Newark Avenue pedestrian plaza has been suddenly removed.

The change was ordered by the same administration that had commissioned the artwork. It's led to complaints of censorship, which the city denies. Still, many residents are not convinced.

"My God, I'm really shocked they did this," said local resident and community activist Angelo Estrada, when he's seen for the first time that the on-pavement painting had been painted over in deep green to match the rest of the pavement. "It was so beautiful, so nice," he told PIX11 News.

Jersey City workers on Tuesday finished covering up the artwork that had been there since the beginning of June.

That approximately 24 by 24-foot painting depicted a Monopoly game board, with landmarks from Jersey City.

"I'm hurt. I'm really hurt," said the creator of the mural, Gary Wynans, who also goes by the name Abillity. "Because it shows that city hall cares about how they look, their image," he told PIX1 News.

His painting definitely had had its share of controversy in its short life. When word got out that in the prototype for the painting there was an image of a pig in a police uniform, the police union and some other residents complained. Wynans changed the design.

Then, after he got final approval from the city, he painted his artwork, with an image of himself behind bars. Some residents complained to city leaders, saying that an image of a man of color behind bars, which was part of the painting, was disturbing.

Wynans, who is of Puerto Rican descent, insisted that the behind-bars image was a self portrait. Still, he removed the potentially offensive image weeks ago.

For his part, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop has been at the Democratic National Convention this week, and therefore unable to comment on his home turf.

However, he also did not speak with any of the three PIX11 reporters on hand in Philadelphia. Fulop's office did issue a statement about the situation, however, saying, "This is temporary street art that we've planned to rotate to showcase as many artists as possible. We will replace with another mural soon."

Some residents expressed doubt about the veracity of the city's statement.

"Enough is enough," said Elaine Thomas, a lifelong resident, about the artwork that had been removed. "Kids like it and it should be all about the kids, and not about the grownups."

The artist himself also cast doubt on the city's claim that his painting was intended to be short-lived.

"It was supposed to last way longer than the summer," Wynans told PIX11 News, "and [last] longer than it took to make it. It took me a month to make it."