Michelle Obama Mural Ignites Fight—Between Artists

Gelila Mesfin says mural artist Chris Devins stole her depiction of former first lady
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 24, 2017 10:06 AM CDT
Artist: Muralist Swiped My Image of Michelle Obama
Homage or theft?   (Instagram)

A mural of Michelle Obama painted in Chicago, not far from where she grew up, has generated interest both for the painting and for artist Chris Devins, who told DNAinfo on Friday he "wanted to present her as what I think she is," which is draped in colorful clothing and jewelry like an "Egyptian queen." But Gelila Mesfin, an art student from Ethiopia who now lives in the US, tells the Washington Post she's "disheartened" that Devins won't credit her for inspiring his mural—since she first posted this depiction of Obama on Instagram in November, and since Devins crowdfunded almost $12,000 to pay for the mural (the GoFundMe page shows a different photo of Obama on the mural, though he notes the mural shown was "preliminary"). "How can you just steal someone's artwork," Mesfin wrote in an Instagram post over the weekend. "This is … so disrespectful on so many levels."

The Post notes Mesfin's digital rendition of Obama used a New York Times photo taken by Collier Schorr, but Mesfin gave Schorr credit. Devins tells the Post the murals he paints for free around the Windy City are based on either public domain pictures or "found" images, and that the money raised went toward the cost of painting the mural. He says he found Mesfin's image on Pinterest and couldn't find her, so he repurposed it like a DJ would "remix" songs. He apologized to Mesfin on Twitter (tweets now deleted) and said he'd been "sloppy," which spurred others to tell him he was more "lazy" and "dishonest" than sloppy. He told DNAinfo this was a "misunderstanding" and that he's offered Mesfin a licensing fee. On Instagram Sunday, Mesfin said she's been in touch with Devins and wants everyone to "keep this positive towards him." (A painting of a nude Donald Trump inspired death threats.)

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