South Side mural of Michelle Obama sparks debate over plagiarism

CHICAGO — A mural on the South Side of former first lady Michelle Obama has been making national headlines and not for the right reasons.

A muralist, Chris Devins, set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to put up a mural of the former first lady on the southeast corner of 74th Street and Chappel Avenue in South Shore. The mural depicts her as an Egyptian Queen in a green and gold headdress.

On the GoFundMe page, he stated that the mural’s purpose was 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.”

An image of the mural quickly went viral.

But soon after, it was uncovered that the image was not Devins’ original work. He had taken it from an Ethiopian-born artist, Gelila Mesfin.

Mesfin, an art student in New York, created the image, inspired by a portrait shot by Collier Schorr, and posted it to Instagram back in November, citing Shorr in her post.

When she found out about Devins’ mural, she was upset that he did not credit her work. She told The Washington Post, “there’s a common code among all artists that you can get inspired by someone’s work but you have to pay homage and you have to give credit for it.”

Devins’ implied that he had imagined the work himself in an interview with DNAInfo.

Mesfin took to social media to call out Devins and this prompted many to direct their anger at him. But Devins struck back, posting to his GoFundMe page that Mesfin “stole” her work from Shorr. He mentioned that those complaining also “listen to music that is entirely sampled from other peoples original music,” and said that this is a broader conversation on authorship in the “re-mix culture” of today.

DNAInfo reported today that Devins apologized for the misunderstanding and gave credit to Mesfin’s work, saying that he first saw her work in a thumbnail version on Pinterest.

On Saturday, Mesfin posted a statement on Instagram saying “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,” she wrote. “I preach love, not anger or hate of any kind.”