SOUTH SHORE — A Chicago artist has finished a colorful mural of Michelle Obama that features the former first lady as an Egyptian queen, but the project is being criticized for not initially crediting the original artist who created the work the mural is based on.
The mural project, spearheaded by artist Chris Devins of Hyde Park, was completed Friday on the southeast corner of Chappel Avenue and 74th Street in South Shore. That’s two blocks from the former first lady’s childhood home at 7436 S. Euclid Ave. and across the street from Bouchet Elementary, which she attended when it was known as Bryn Mawr School.
“I wanted to present her as what I think she is, so she’s clothed as an Egyptian queen. I thought that was appropriate,” Devins said Friday evening.
Devins launched a GoFundMe campaign in November to create the mural on the outside of Bouchet School, but the mural was put on an apartment building instead.
“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,” the GoFundMe stated.
The image originally included with the GoFundMe, which raised nearly $12,000, resembled a black and white photograph. The finished mural, completed over five days, shows Obama dressed in colorful clothing including a green and gold headdress and green earrings.
That image was created by Ethiopian-born artist Gelila Mesfin, who posted a photo of the work to her Instagram account, @Thick_East_African_Girl, in November. After news of the mural surfaced Friday night, she criticized Devins for not reaching out, saying “this is so disheartening and so disrespectful on so many levels.”
“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 in an Instagram post.
In emails to DNAinfo Saturday, Devins apologized for the “misunderstanding” and said that his mural was inspired by her piece, which he first saw in a thumbnail version on Pinterest.
“Our non profit Urban Planning Projects often include painting inspired by found images,” he wrote in a message similar to an update he posted on the GoFundMe page. “We were blown away by a wonderful image we stumbled on 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.”
On Twitter Saturday morning, Devins thanked Mesfin, who now lives in Rhode Island, and said he only found out her name beyond her handle after news of the mural appeared online and he said he was “not trying to take credit” for her work.
“It was sloppy,” he admitted.
In an email, he said he has reached out to Mesfin, “who has been offered a licensing fee, and that we did not intend to claim authorship, only inspiration.”
Saturday evening, Mesfin posted a statement on instagram encouraging people to stay positive.
“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,” she wrote. “I preach love, not anger or hate of any kind.
Devins said CPS rejected putting the mural on Bouchet because the district does not allow murals on schools. But he didn’t mind the location on a building across the street.
“I wanted to keep my original promise so students can see right now across from the playground,” he said. “It gives them a sense of pride.”
Eiran Feldman, CEO of First InSite Realty, owns the building, along with 300 other properties on the South Side. He also owns a building at 81st and Ingleside that featured a huge poster of “Queen of Gospel” Mahalia Jackson on its side, as well as a building that has a picture of Nat King Cole on it at 4301 S. Martin Luther King Dr.