A mural of Michelle Obama dressed as an Egyptian queen that popped up on an apartment building in Chicago last week has become quite controversial because the man who put it there is being accused of stealing the image from another artist.
Last fall, an Ethiopian art student based in New York named Gelila Mesfin created a portrait of Michelle Obama based off this one that appeared in The New York Times. At the end of October, the 24-year-old posted her original artwork to Instagram:
This past Friday, a nearly identical portrait showed up on the side of a building on the south side of Chicago as a mural, The Washington Post reports. However, Mesfin had not been contacted about nor credited for the painting.
Though Mesfin was initially flattered to see her artwork turned into a mural, she soon found that the person who painted it, artist and urban planner Chris Devins, seemed to have profited from it, as he raised $12,000 on a GoFundMe page. Devins also appeared to suggest to local media that the concept for the portrait was solely his idea.
"I wanted to present her as what I think she is, so she’s clothed as an Egyptian queen," Devins told DNAinfo on Friday.
Just hours after Devins' Michelle Obama mural went up, word got back to Mesfin. She condemned Devins' use of her artwork without crediting her in a viral Instagram post.
Mesfin's Instagram quickly spread and sparked a storm of outrage on social media.
Though Devins was apologetic, he said he didn't know it was someone else's work. He told The Washington Post that he never intended to rip off Mesfin's design and that he came across the image on Pinterest, and was unable to track down the original artist. He says that all the money he raised went to painting the mural.
“I didn’t find out until she complained online that it was her image,” he said. “That’s why I didn’t give her any credit.” (Apparently, he's never heard of Google's reverse image search?)
Devins has since released multiple statements apologizing to Mesfin and crediting the original image of Michelle Obama to her. The two are currently negotiating a resolution to the issue. Mesfin has asked her followers not to insult Devins while they work it out.
“I understand why he did it. At the same time, I was just surprised,” Mesfin told The Washington Post. “It would have been fine if he had just said that he got it from me.”