Michelle Obama Mural On Public Building Sparks Outrage. Look Closer.

One artist is in outrage and claims the other artist stole her portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama, which features Michelle wearing an Egyptian headdress

Gelila Mesfin’s digital portrait, “Forever Queen,” was uploaded by the artist to her Instagram account in November 2016, reports The Washington Post. On April 21, an almost identical version of Mesfin’s portrait appeared as a mural on Chicago building.

Chris Devins, who painted the mural on the building did not credit Mesfin. He says he found her drawing on Pinterest and was unable to track her down. He then said it is ok that he used her imagery, calling it a “remix” of a piece of art in the way that a DJ remixes songs.

When Mesfin was first flattered that another artist had turned her image into a piece of public art it wasn’t until she learned that Devins profited from it, judging by the fact he raised nearly $12,000 on a GoFundMe page. In addition, his comments to a local media outlet implied that the artwork was his idea: “I wanted to present her as what I think she is, so she’s clothed as an Egyptian queen,” he told DNAinfo.

Mesfin used the social media and The Post to alert her outrage “I was very disheartened when he did that. There’s a common code among all artists that you can get inspired by someone’s work but you have to pay homage and you have to give credit for it.”

With the help of an attorney, she and Devins are negotiating a resolution to the dispute.

Devins said never tried to take credit for Mesfin’s creation. He also noted that Mesfin’s portrait was not original, either, being based on portrait published in The New York Times by photographer Collier Schorr. Mesfin, however, credited Schorr’s work on her Instagram post.

For more than two years Devins said he has been painting murals around Chicago, depicting that city’s historically-significant black figures, including Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole, and that he makes little to no money from the work.

“This is a free service that I do as a benefit for Chicago youth as a counter to the ‘if it bleeds it leads’ portrayal of Chicago’s South Side,” he told The Post. He further alleges that all the GoFundMe money that was raised for the mural of Michelle went into the cost of painting it.

“I understand why he did it,” Mesfin concludes. “At the same time, I was just surprised. It would have been fine if he had just said that he got it from me.”

Sources: The Washington Post, DNAinfo