Salem State University has temporarily suspended an art exhibit that featured a painting depicting members of the Ku Klux Klan in response to multiple student complaints about the subject matter, university officials confirmed.

A university spokeswoman said the digital painting by Lowell artist Garry Harley has displayed in the school’s Winfisky Gallery as part of an exhibit titled “State of the Union,” WBZ reported.

The Art + Design department held a forum Tuesday with faculty, staff and the artist, department chair Mary Melilli said in a letter to students.

“Yesterday’s conversation made clear the strong emotions this exhibit has caused,” she wrote.

The artwork provoked “strong negative reactions” in students, who did not necessarily know the artist’s intent, she said. A “guest book” in the gallery did detail information about the artist's intent, but many people were unaware it existed.

“We understand that not displaying the context in close proximity to the artwork in the exhibit contributed to the strong reaction from our community,” Melilli said.

Melilli plans to meet with students on Monday to further discuss the artwork.

“Art is often intended to spark discussion about societal ills. In this case, it did just that, but we deeply regret the distress it has caused students,” she said.