On Friday, Chicago artist Chris Devins finished painting a beautiful mural of Michelle Obama on a building in the former first lady’s old neighborhood in the city’s South Side.
The painting features her as an Egyptian queen but it wasn’t mentioned that the depiction is actually a copy of another artist’s work.
“I wanted to present her as what I think she is, so she’s clothed as an Egyptian queen. I thought that was appropriate,” Devins said of the mural on Friday evening.
He didn’t say that the image of Obama was actually created by Ethiopian-born artist Gelila Mesfin. Mesfin had posted a photo of her own piece to her Instagram account, @Thick_East_African_Girl, in November.
In several tweets that have since been removed, Devins claimed that he didn’t know of Mesfin’s work. In response, he has been receiving backlash on Twitter.
Apparently Chris Devins is deleting tweets. For those who might need them, receipts. pic.twitter.com/sPTYHRRHdt
— K. Locke (@Bibliogato) April 22, 2017
@DNAinfoCHI Chris Devins stole someones artwork and raised 12,000 dollars to blow put it up without permission. smh delete this article
— Infinite. (@smoltangerine) April 22, 2017
Upon finding out that Devins had unveiled the mural and didn’t give her advance notice or credit, Mesfin said, “This is so disheartening and so disrespectful on so many levels.”
Devins started a GoFundMe campaign in November, stating that he intended to paint the mural on the outside of the Bouchet School, but the mural was placed on an apartment building instead. It is located across the street from Bouchet Elementary on the southeast corner of Chappel Avenue and 74th Street in South Shore. Mrs. Obama attended the school when it was known as Bryn Mawr School.
“The purpose of this mural is to give today’s children someone they can literally look up to and to celebrate Mrs. Obama’s life and accomplishments during the last 8 years as First Lady of the United States,” Devins wrote on the GoFundMe campaign, which raised nearly $12,000. He also included a black and white photograph of Obama, which looked nothing like the finished mural.
It took Devin five days to paint the copy, which depicts Obama as a Nubian queen, dressed in colorful clothing adorned with a green and gold headdress and green earrings.
“I wouldn’t mind if he had given me credit or said he took the design from another artist but saying you designed it is just wrong!” Mesfin wrote in an Instagram post.
It wasn’t until after she complained that Devins admitted the truth. “Our non profit Urban Planning Projects often include painting inspired by found images,” he wrote in an update he posted on the GoFundMe page. “We were blown away by a wonderful image we stumbled on and only found out after the fact who the source of our inspiration was. We in no way meant to [infringe] on anyone’s creativity.”
Devins took to Twitter to thank Mesfin, who currently lives in Rhode Island, and claimed that he was “not trying to take credit” for her work. “It was sloppy,” he admitted.
He has also reached out to Mesfin and stated that she “has been offered a licensing fee,” adding, “We did not intend to claim authorship, only inspiration.”
Mesfin gracefully responded to Devins with a statement posted on Instagram: “I have been in contact with Chris Devins in hopes of resolving this issue in an applicable and professional manner, and from my Instagram family, I only ask that everyone keep this positive towards him. I preach love, not anger or hate of any kind.”
LofE truly appreciates the work this great Woman is doing. Looking forward to coming together for the original benefit of Chicago's youth. pic.twitter.com/9RXlffRu53
— Chris Devins (@LeagueOfExtra) April 23, 2017
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