A Chicago artist is under fire over a recently unveiled mural of Michelle Obama, which shows the former First Lady in the style of an Egyptian queen, in South Shore. The mural is located outside of Bouchet Elementary School — two blocks from the former first lady’s childhood home at 7436 S. Euclid Ave. Chris Devins plagiarized the art of Ethiopia-native artist Gelila Lila Mesfin. Devins crowdfunded the mural after receiving more than $11,000 for the project on GoFundMe.

Devins told DNAinfo on last Friday after the mural was finished, “I wanted to present [Obama] as what I think she is, so she’s clothed as an Egyptian queen. I thought that was appropriate.” But he didn’t recognize Mesfin, who posts work under the handle thick_east_african_girl on Instagram. Users on social media, however, did soon recognize.

How can you just steal someone's artwork… someone's hard work and claim it like it's yours… how can you go on record and say you designed this… this is so disheartening and so disrespectful on so many levels… like this man seriously created a gofundme page, raised money and did this… it's one thing to share or even profit from someone's work but to claim it as yours is just wrong! Thank you to those who DM and messaged me to let me know what was going on @dnainfochi you guys should take this article down because this man stole this. 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! The man is a teacher for God's sake and said he was doing this to create positivity for his students and community… but he didn't think that stealing a young girl's artwork and making a profit out of it does more damage than good.

A post shared by G🐼 (@thick_east_african_girl) on

After being called out, Devins tried to credit Gelila Lila Mesfin in a series of tweets:

Our non profit urban planning projects often include paintings inspired by found images Thank you east african girl.

— Chris Devins (@LeagueOfExtra) April 22, 2017

Thank you Gelila Lila Mesfin As placemakers,we are were truly inspired,…

— Chris Devins (@LeagueOfExtra) April 22, 2017

we only found out her name now. it was sloppy. now people are must being mean https://t.co/HP5ZVwBtRl

— Chris Devins (@LeagueOfExtra) April 22, 2017

It will be interesting to see where the Michelle Obama mural will go from here.


Mesfin wrote on Instagram on Saturday that she’d been in touch with Devins, “in hopes of resolving this issue in an applicable and professional manner.”

In GoFundMe update posted yesterday, Devins now states he has given Mesfins credit and $100K in free publicity:

My original intent has been realized, the kids have a beautiful new mural too look up to. I credited Ms Mesfin immediately. [A]nd kept my promise to you donors. I understand there may be some controversy, but it has given Ms Mesfin $100,000’s in free publicity. I’ve taken the heat and will gladly do so as long as the kids have a mural they can look up to.”

He also stated that Mesfin “has no legal grounds to stand on for copyright infringement.” Claiming that he usually uses free and clear images from WikiCommons or the Library of Congress when he does murals in his role as an urban planner and not an artist. “When I am acting in my capacity as an artist, I take original photos,” said Devins.

“Her work is itself considered a derivative work of the original photographer. She herself appropriated Ms. Schoor’s image and ‘digitally painted’ over it. You can’t appropriate a bike then sue someone for riding it.”

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