In November 2016, artist Gelila Lila Mesfin posted a striking digital drawing of former First Lady Michelle Obama as an Egyptian queen clad in emerald and gold on Instagram. In April 2017, that same image was mounted as a mural on Chicago’s south side area—just a few blocks from where Obama grew up.
Yet Mesfin did not receive any credit for the artwork on the mural. Instead Chris Devins, a Chicago-based artist and urban planner took all the accolades when he installed the drawing and raised $11,758 for the project on GoFundMe; then claiming it as his own, The Huffington Post reports.
Reportedly, Devins started the campaign on November 8, 2016, just days after Mesfin posted the original image on Instagram, but he never once acknowledged the artwork was originally Mesfin’s, or cited he inspired her to say the least.
“I wanted to present her as what I think she is, so she’s clothed as an Egyptian queen,” Devins told DNA Info in an interview, without mentioning Mesfin. “I thought that was appropriate.”
“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!” she wrote. “The man is a teacher for God’s sake and said he was doing this to create positivity for his students and community… but he didn’t think that stealing a young girl’s artwork and making a profit out of it does more damage than good.”
Ultimately, Devins responded to the claims that he plagiarized Mesfin’s work. He told DNA Info that it was “sloppy” and that he would compensate Mesfin with a licensing fee. Still, he clapped back through GoFundMe about the same claim where he blames Mesfin for using a portrait of Michelle Obama shot by Collier Schorr for the New York Times.
“If you want to go there, the so called ‘original’ is ‘stolen’ from photographer Collier Schorr. The broader conversation is one about authorship in the re-mix culture we live in,” he wrote.
In response to Devin’s latest statement, Mesfin took to Instagram and shared, “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; I preach love, not anger or hate of any kind.”
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