A new mural of former first lady Michelle Obama, painted on a building in the Chicago neighborhood where she lived as a child and remains popular, would seem like an innocuous project.
But the mural, by Chicago artist Chris Devins, has sparked intense debate — and not for the usual political reasons.
Shortly after Devins finished the mural last Friday, criticism began bubbling up online. People accused him of copying the image from Rhode Island art student Gelila Mesfin, who had posted a nearly identical portrait of Michelle Obama on Instagram last year.
Portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama by Rhode Island art student Gelila Mesfin.
News of the mural’s existence came as a huge surprise to Mesfin, too.
“How can you just steal someone’s artwork… someone’s hard work and claim it like it’s yours…” she wrote Saturday in an Instagram post.
“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!”
In an interview Tuesday with CNN, Devins denied any wrongdoing. He said he didn’t know who Mesfin was prior to last week and only learned of her artwork after someone on Instagram notified him of her accusations.
“I credited Ms. Mesfin for her work immediately. I’ve taken the heat and will gladly do so as long as the kids have a mural they can look up to,” he said.
Devins said he got the idea for the mural from an image he found on Pinterest that depicted the former first lady as an Egyptian queen. He said he didn’t know where it had originated.
Devins, who calls himself an urban planner as well as an artist, is known for painting large outdoor murals and installations around Chicago. He said he chose the mural’s location — across the street from an elementary school Michelle Obama once attended on the city’s South Side — because “I wanted a mural that would serve as an inspiration for the young ladies on Chicago’s South Side and young ladies everywhere.”
Devins launched a GoFundMe page and raised nearly $12,000 before completing the mural.
In recent days he has been careful to credit Mesfin in all his social media posts. He said he has not spoken directly to Mesfin about the controversy but has offered to pay her a licensing fee and is negotiating with her attorney.
“For me, this is a time for learning and self-reflection, not justification. Though I did not receive any funds based on Ms. Mesfin’s work, I was granted money based on a socially responsible message about Black women,” he said in a statement. “She has accepted my extended hand of friendship and collaboration.”
Devins is certainly not the first artist to appropriate someone else’s work. In fact, Mesfin herself adapted her Obama portrait from a photograph by Collier Schorr that appeared last fall in the New York Times’ magazine. She has consistently credited Schorr in her Instagram posts.
CNN has reached out to Mesfin for comment but has yet to hear back.
But in a statement posted on her social media accounts, Mesfin said she has been in contact with Devins in hopes of resolving the issue “in a professional manner.”
“I only ask that everyone keep this positive towards him; I preach love, not anger or hate of any kind,” she added.
Meet Josh Egesi, A Multidisciplinary Artist
Anttention Media had the pleasure of interviewing a talented guy who currently ranks as the largest bottle-caps portrait in Africa. A true creative soul who has wholly given himself to the pursuit of creative excellence.
Joshua Egesi was a six year old primary two pupil when he began imitating the comic drawings of his elder sister. At that tender age, even if he could not properly express it in his incoherent babbles, he was fascinated by the idea of drawings. And just like that, spurred by the ‘magic’ of his sister’s pencil, at the age of seven, he wanted to be an artist.
In pursuance of his dream of becoming an artist, and armed with an OND certificate from Federal Polytechnic Auchi, Edo state, the inspired youngster decided to further develop his artist’s acumen. Hence, he proceeded to the University of Benin to enroll for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Fine Arts.
Like Cyrus Kabiru, the Kenyan ‘thrash collector‘, Josh sees himself as an environmental artist, Although, this perception was informed by his encounter with bottle cover as a medium in late 2015 when he was an intern at the Environmental Art Garden in Abuja. Being the restless mind that he was, he concluded that just like every other waste in the garden, the bottle caps also had to be transformed into art. He consequently figured that he could make his art more subjective with the bottle caps and immediately picked inspiration from pixels which, en-mass makes up an actual picture.
Egesi believes that art should project something concrete, not only mirror the society, but go a step further in proffering solutions to the multi-faceted problems that abound, especially in a clime like Nigeria.
Artist’s Social Media Links
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We are happy to have featured this amazing talent on HANDS our creativity centered programme and hope to invite him to our annual creative exhibition show aimed at promoting African art and exhibition. His details are available here and his talent ready to serve a populace.
Facebook: Joshua Egesi
Anchor: Tolu ‘Taraj’ Omisakin
Camera Works: Chris Mokwunye ‘Krismok’
Graphics: Michael ‘Surplus’ Egbo
Music: Oluwatosin ‘O’tea’ Aphia
Let’s take your craft to the world! Booking Agent Chibuike Obi (email@example.com)
Ivory Coast: African art museum gets new lease of life
It has been buffeted by the pendulum swing of domestic politics and suffered looting that left it without some of its most precious items.
But Ivory Coast’s Museum of Civilisations is now back, and determined to recover its place as one of the richest museums of African art in the world – a place of “incomparable wealth”, as Senegal’s late poet-president Leopold Sedar Senghor said in a 1971 visit.
Looted four decades later during a political and military showdown, the museum shut its doors for a two-year refurbishment, reopening in July with redecorated rooms, modern lighting and a new conference centre, restaurant and garden.
The first exhibition since the renovation is rightfully called “Renaissance”.
It places the spotlight on a selection of a hundred of the museum’s finest pieces, from the palaeolithic era to contemporary art.
“We can consider ourselves lucky to have such a beautiful collection,” museum director Silvie Memel Kassi said.
“It’s an asset – a collection of 15 000 pieces from across every region.”
But she still mourns the pillage that occurred in 2011, during a post-electoral time of anarchy in the Ivorian economic capital, Abidjan, that claimed some 3 000 lives.
“That really left us with a bitter taste in the mouth,” she said. “The items that were looted [120 items] were major works: sacred pieces, objects made of wax… Our estimate is that almost €4bn was lost, Memel Kassi said.
In the coming months, the museum plans to put on a “ghost collection” exhibition to keep the memory of the vanished pieces alive and to promote recognition of illicit trafficking in historical objects, which circulate in a market financed by many private collectors who are often not overly troubled by origins.
Founded in 1942 when France was the colonial power in much of west Africa, the museum is itself a work of art with 20 columns finely sculpted in wood.