A Chicago Artist is Under Fire For Plagiarizing a Black Woman’s Artwork For His Michelle Obama Mural

Dimas Sanfiorenzo Dimas Sanfiorenzo is the Managing Editor for Okayplayer. He specializes…
Michelle Obama Mural Was Plagiarized

Photo of the Michelle Obama Mural courtesy of Twitter.

On Friday, Chicago artist and urban planner Chris Devins completed a large mural of Michelle Obama, located just blocks away from the former First Lady’s childhood home. Now many people are calling foul on the tactics he used to make the mural.

The whole project started in November when Devins launched a GoFundMe in order to raise $9,900 for the project; he ended up getting $11,785. When he pitched the idea, the mural featured a standard photo of Michelle Obama. However, when the mural was complete, the ex-FLOTUS was featured as an Egyptian queen. DNA Chicago ran an article about the Michelle Obama mural, which is located on the corner of Chappel Avenue and 74th Street. In the article, Devins says: “I wanted to present her as what I think she is, so she’s clothed as an Egyptian queen. I thought that was appropriate.”

The only problem, the image used was not originally his. This particular image of Michelle Obama was created by a black woman named Gelila Lila Mesfin. After the DNA piece was published, she posted this on her Instagram:

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 and 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

If you scroll her Instagram, you can see that her claim is legit. There’s a video of her creating the painting the mural is based on. The video is from October 2016:

After numerous of people came to Mesfin’s defense on Twitter, Devins responded. He admitted he was “inspired” by Mesfin’s work and then kind of gave credit.

It will be interesting to see where the Michelle Obama mural will go from here.

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