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GoFundMe To Aid Artist Whose Work Was Copied In Michelle Obama Mural

 Gelila Mesfin created this image of Michelle Obama.
Gelila Mesfin created this image of Michelle Obama.
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SOUTH SHORE — Lindsey Ward became angry when she realized her GoFundMe donation for a mural honoring Michelle Obama on the South Side didn’t help the “the original artist” — the right artist, in her mind.

Ward, 32, of Boston, decided to launch her own GoFundMe with a goal of $10,000 to go to the original creator, Ethiopian-born artist Gelila Mesfin.

She read DNAinfo’s article Friday about Chris Devins, a local artist and urban planner, who put up artwork of Michelle Obama on the southeast corner of 74th Street and Chappel Avenue in South Shore, across from Bouchet Elementary, which Obama attended when it was known as Bryn Mawr School.

Devins launched a GoFundMe campaign in November to create the mural.

"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 told DNAinfo Friday, before the online backlash.

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.


After Mesfin and others took to social media to reveal the colorful digital image wasn’t Devins' original creation, Ward said she was “pissed.”

So she launched her own GoFundMe with a goal of $10,000 to go to the original creator, Ethiopian-born artist Gelila Mesfin.

“When I found out it was work he had actually just plagiarized I was upset because I had just given money to his fund,” she said. “I was really worked up on Friday because I saw the piece and kind of connected with it. I thought it was gorgeous and I wanted to support it.”

“When I saw that it was this woman, this young black woman from Ethiopia, it just made so much more sense. Like I connected with her a little bit and not this guy Chris Devins. ... I felt really pissed off. There was no connection to him. It made a lot of sense that he didn’t do it.”

Devins said he put up the mural to inspire girls on the South Side and said as soon as he found out who created the image it was based on — he had originally seen a small version posted online with no attribution — he gave her credit. Ward tweeted Devins Friday asking him if he planned to share any of the proceeds with Mesfin.

“Then he blocked me,” she said, adding that she has received a refund.

He has since offered to share an undisclosed licensing fee with Mesfin.

She said she didn’t want anyone else to make the same mistake she did and donate to him for that project or future work.

“Hoping to raise a bit of support for the artist behind the mesmerizing mural in Chicago of Michelle Obama,” Ward posted on the GoFundMe. “Especially as she was not considered or even aware of how much attention and awe would soon come to her work.”

She said she has been in touch with Mesfin via email and it’s set up so only Mesfin can pull from the account.

Click here to visit the GoFundMe page.