Society

Artist Allegedly Steals Design For Michelle Obama Mural

| by Kathryn Schroeder

An artist in Chicago, Illinois, is accused of stealing the idea for a mural of Michelle Obama he created using money raised through crowdfunding.

In November 2016, artist Chris Devins started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for a mural of the former first lady, aiming 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."

"I am seeking to raise at least $5000 in community support to create a large scale, outdoor mural of First Lady Michelle Obama," Devins wrote on the crowdfunding page. "The total cost of the mural is approximately $15,000. I plan on matching some of the funds donated by the community and raise additional funds from local community organizations. Additionally, I plan on donating at least $500 to Bouchet Elementary, which [Obama] attended, for school supplies for its students."

Devins raised a total of $11,785 towards his mural.

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The mural was completed on April 21. It shows Obama as an Egyptian queen and is located on a building across the street from Bouchet Elementary, according to DNAinfo.

"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.

But the mural's image is not Devins' original work. It was created by Ethiopian-born artist Gelila Mesfin, and he did not give her credit.

"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," Mesfin wrote in an Instagram post. "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!"

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Devins contacted DNAinfo and apologized for the misunderstanding, stating his mural was inspired by Mesfin's piece.

“Our non profit Urban Planning Projects often include painting inspired by found images," he wrote in a message. "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 reportedly first saw a thumbnail of the piece on Pinterest. He took to Twitter to tell Mesfin he was "not trying to take credit" for her work. "It was sloppy," he said. The tweets have since been been deleted.

However, on the project's GoFundMe page, Devins accused Mesfin of actually stealing the idea herself.

"Um. People. If you want to go there, the so called 'original' is 'stolen' from photographer Collier Schorr," he wrote.

According to Mesfin, she has been in contact with Devins to resolve the issue in "an applicable and professional manner."

"I only ask that everyone keep this positive towards him; I preach love, not anger or hate of any kind," she wrote.

Devins said in an email to DNAinfo that he has offered Mesfin a licensing fee.

Sources: DNAinfo, Chris Devins/GoFundMe, Gelila Mesfin/Instagram (2) / Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr

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