Chicago Artist Gets Dragged for Stealing This Black Woman's African-Inspired Michelle Obama Portrait

Gelila Mesfin was shocked to see nearly $12K was raised to re-create her original idea.

During the final year of the Obama administration, people throughout the nation offered unique tributes to the first family. One Ethiopian student in New York used her digital art skills to create an African-inspired portrait of Michelle Obama. 

  • 24-Year-Old Gelila Mesfin takes photographs and creates a digital drawing

  • Mesfin used a NY Times photo of Obama and digitally imposed colors to make the former first lady appear as a Nubian Queen

  • Although no one contacted Mesfin about her work when she originally made it in November, her piece appeared on a mural in Chicago nearly five months later

  • Chicago Urban Planner and Artist Chris Devins installed the mural of the former first lady

    In addition to creating the mural based on Mesfin's work, Devins raised nearly $12,000 on a GoFundMe page for its installation. 

    Soon after Devins' mural was featured in several media outlets without mentioning Mesfin, word got back to the New York artist that someone may have stolen her work. 

    Eventually, Mesfin posted a response to the attention Devins' mural in Chicago received. 

  • Mesfin took to Instagram to blast Devins for taking her work

    In her post, Mesfin said seeing her work uncredited as a mural was "so disheartening and so disrespectful on so many levels."

    However, Devins also took to his own social media pages to defend his work and explain about how he chooses which pieces to use for his murals. 

    "As an urban planner I make no claims on any of the images I do, a fool can see that I use public domain images a lot," Devins wrote on his Facebook page. "Im urban planning. Now , it does turn out that the way I take whole sets of images, re-mix them and re-present them as a way to connect buildings to the community may be in itself a new form of Art, like an image DJ."

  • Although this particular instance appeared to create tension between Devins and Mesfin, a recent Instagram post by Mesfin suggested the two are working toward a unifying solution

    Devins posted to his Twitter that he can't wait to work with Mesfin in order to better the youth of Chicago. 

    No official statement has been made about what the two are planning; however, it does appear there is nothing but love between the two lovers of art. 

Latest News

Subscribe for BET Updates

Provide your email address to receive our newsletter.

By clicking Subscribe, you confirm that you have read and agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge our Privacy Policy. You also agree to receive marketing communications, updates, special offers (including partner offers) and other information from BET and the Paramount family of companies. You understand that you can unsubscribe at any time.