Artist Seeks The Help of GoFundMe to Pay For Plagiarized Image of Former First Lady

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In Chicago’s South Side neighborhood, not far from our former first lady’s childhood home, a mural was mounted that was created by artist Gelila Lila Mesfin. It was a portrait of Michelle Obama adorned in jewels and gems resembling that of an Egyptian queen. It sounds beautiful and amazing, right? So what’s the problem? Mesfin received no credit for her artwork and wasn’t even aware that it was being showcased; instead Chicago-based artist, Chris Devins took credit for this piece and pretended he was the creator, after raising almost $12,000 on GoFundMe, just days after Mesfin posted the original image onto her personal  Instagram page.

Devin took to social media and wrote, “The purpose of this mural, is to give today’s children someone they can literally look up to and to celebrate Mrs. Obama’s life and accomplishments during the last 8 years as First Lady of the United States.” Not once did Devins acknowledge Mesfin as the source for the image or give her praise for creating such beautiful piece children can ‘literally look up to.’

Let’s fast forward to April 8th. During an interview with DNA Info, Devin mentioned while referring to the former first lady, “I wanted to present her as what I think she is, so she’s clothed as an Egyptian queen. I thought that was appropriate.”

People quickly recognized the artwork as Mesfin’s and notified her via social media. In a statement published on her Instagram page, she wrote: “How can you go on record and say you designed this… this is so disheartening and so disrespectful on so many levels…” Mesfin added. “It’s one thing to share or even profit from someone’s work but to claim it as yours is just wrong!” she said. “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.”

After being confronted with the fact the artwork was plagiarized, he responded, “We were blown away by a wonderful image we stumbled on,” Devins said, “and only found out after the fact who the source of our inspiration was. We in no way meant to [infringe] on anyone’s creativity.”

After offering a licensing fee, Devins responded on his GOFundMe page, “Um. People,” he said, linking to Schorr’s portrait as it appeared in 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.” Although Mesfin has always credited Collier in her Instagram posts.

In turn, Mesfin then replied with, “I preach love, not hate or anger of any kind.” Although there are many responses that would deem fit for Devins, Mesfin took the high road exactly as our former first lady would do.

“Although social media is a great way to market your talent, amongst other things, it happens time and time again where ideas, artwork, and even one’s personal style is jacked. Is it re-mix culture or is it blatant plagiarism? At what point is the line drawn, and what happened to giving credit where credit is due? A simple shout out would have sufficed. And then there’s the cultural appropriation conversation that we’ll save for another time but it’s too bad that being authentic and honest is a rarity.”



Burnside, Tina. “Chicago Artist Creates a Mural of Michelle Obama and No One’s Happy.” CNN. Cable News Network, 26 Apr. 2017. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.

Frank, Priscilla. “Artist Crowdfunds $11K To Paint Plagiarized Mural Of Michelle Obama.” The Huffington Post., 24 Apr. 2017. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.

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