CHICAGO — When you walk or drive in the 1200 block of West Fulton, some murals can’t be missed, but one, in particular, stood out: Chicago area native and international artist Kanye West, now known as Ye.
But what was originally a nod to West as more of an homage has become a redirect after a series of antisemitic remarks made by the rapper sparked outrage.
Street artist and urban planner Chris Devins conceived the mural after a friend who works in California worked on a project with West. Often viewed as eclectic and sometimes enigmatic, West did have the respect of artists from all walks of life.
“He had not only did a lot for music but also and fashion and public art,” Devins said.
After dining with a friend at a Fulton Market District restaurant, Devins walked by a brick wall that needed some artistry. He says that’s when a light bulb moment took place.
“So I’m walking back from dinner and I walk past this wall and I see this big space and I just think to myself, ‘I need to do something there,'” Devins said. “It just came to me that I should do Kanye West here.”
Initially, Devins’ mural was well-received, until it wasn’t.
Ye made news headlines when he began making antisemitic social media posts and shared antisemitic conspiracy theories, such as questioning if the Holocaust occurred. ‘Ye’ also threatened violence against Jews, all while declaring a run for president in 2024.
For Devins, the tide has turned.
“My wife being Jewish, I was done with Kanye West,” Devins said. “Free speech and all of that, he had crossed over into extremism.”
At that time, Rabbi Avraham Kagan, whose congregation is Chabad of River North at Fulton Market, took notice of Devins’ work.
“My mentor always taught us to act in a positive way,” Kagan said.
Kagan reached out to Devins and over coffee, they hatched a plan to fight the hate amid the backdrop of Hanukkah.
“Let’s fight hate and as we were discussing, the consensus was Hanukkah is all about light and spreading a positive message,” Kagan said.
Thus came the decision to paint West’s face with a message of light from a rabbi who founded Chabad hundreds of years ago.
“A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.”
“It’s been very well received,” Devins said.
Kagan echoed Devin’s sentiments.
“I’ve been getting emails and what’s been most heartwarming is I gotten emails from a couple of parents saying, ‘Rabbi, I want to say thank you for sharing a positive message on this whole situation,'” he said. “‘It’s something I feel like I can share with my kids.'”