A Chicago apartment building now boasts a huge mural of Michelle Obama as an Egyptian queen, but the artist faced immediate backlash when it was unveiled Friday.
Chicago artist Chris Devins raised about $12,000 on GoFundMe to paint the mural that now resides two blocks from where Obama grew up on the South Side of Chicago. It portrays the former first lady as an Egyptian queen with a stoic look on her face, adorned in a green and gold headdress, jewelry, and winged eyeliner.
"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 told DNAinfo.
But, people online soon recognized the image from Ethiopian art student Gelila Mesfin's Instagram. Mesfin, currently studying in Rhode Island, posted the digital drawing she made from a photo taken by Collier Schorr in October 2016. After someone alerted Mesfin to the copycat, she posted screenshots from the DNAinfo article showing the mural, writing, "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."
Devins told CNN he got the idea from a picture he saw on Pinterest, but he didn't know where it came from or who Mesfin was. "I credited Ms. Mesfin for her work immediately," he said after finding out the image was originally hers. "I've taken the heat and will gladly do so as long as the kids have a mural they can look up to."
Mesfin posted a short statement to Instagram explaining that she has been in contact with Devins "in hopes of resolving this issue in an applicable and professional manner."
Devins quickly began crediting Mesfin in his posts about the new mural and also posted a statement to Twitter, saying the mural was "made possible by Galila Mesfin's design artistry" and his "placemaking and mural execution skills."
He added, "Though I did not receive funds based on Ms. Mesfin's work, I was granted money based on a socially responsible message about Black women. She has accepted my extended hand of friendship and collaboration."
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