When a mural depicting former First Lady Michelle Obama as an Egyptian queen was unveiled on a bricked canvas in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, the beauty and visual artistic precision inspired many oohs and aahs.
The painting is rich, vibrant and exudes power, resilience, grace and strength–everything we’ve equated with Mrs. Obama. As the image circulated on social media, praise went to Chris Devins, a Chicago muralist.
Through a GoFundMe campaign, Devins raised more than $11,000 for the project, and on Friday, following the unveiling, he spoke with DNAinfo and shared his intent behind the mural.
“I wanted to present [Obama] as what I think she is, so she’s clothed as an Egyptian queen. I thought that was appropriate,” he said.
Additionally, on his GoFund me page, Devins explains that he wanted to give children in Chicago someone they can look up to and to celebrate Mrs. Obama’s life and accomplishments during her eight years as First Lady of the United States.
But there was one problem. As Devins’ mural circled the web, many accused the artist of plagiarism because his image looked like it was ripped directly from a series of images created by Galile Mesfin, a fellow artist who shares her work online using the handle thick_east_african_girl on Instagram.
No where did Devins give acknowledgement or any sort of credit to Mesfin, whom initially sparked the idea as Mrs. Obama as a queen.
And see, the way social media works, everything travels quickly and the mural sure made its way to Mesfin and controversy hit.
This mural was not an original idea- Chris Devin’s stole this BW artist work. pic.twitter.com/mC4oY08zen
— Lord Rach (@RachaeltheLord) April 22, 2017
In Mesfin’s response via Instagram, she called on DNAInfo Chicago, who originally covered the mural unveiling, to remove its article due to the false pretenses of Devins’ work.
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… like this man seriously created a gofundme page, raised money and did this… it’s one thing to share or even profit from someone’s work but to claim it as yours is just wrong! Thank you to those who DM and messaged me to let me know what was going on @dnainfochi you guys should take this article down because this man stole this. 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! 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.
A post shared by G🐼 (@thick_east_african_girl) on
It’s one thing to be inspired by someone’s creativity and then find a way to remix and add your personal artistic voice to it, but plagiarism is real and hurtful.
In this case, Mesfin’s concern lies with receiving her proper credit. According to a recent post on her IG account, she and Devins have been in contact and are working toward resolving the issue.
Adding to the fuel are a few of Devins’ recent Twitter posts.
To throw some more gas on the fire, a Picasso quote , stolen by Banksy 😉 pic.twitter.com/TNQFQzrKTB
— Chris Devins (@LeagueOfExtra) April 24, 2017
While this situation gets sorted out, check out a cool video of Mesfin’s illustration of Mrs. Obama set to the words of Maya Angelou.
View more of Mesfin’s work, which includes re-imagined images of celebrities adorned in traditional African garb, here.