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Don't Take Down Michelle Obama Mural — But Credit Artist, Residents Say

 A new Michelle Obama mural shows her as an Egyptian queen.
A new Michelle Obama mural shows her as an Egyptian queen.
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GoFundMe/Chris Devins

SOUTH SHORE — Residents of the neighborhood where a controversial mural of Michelle Obama was  erected Friday criticized the man who put up the mural without initially crediting the original artist but said they hope the mural stays.

Chris Devins of Hyde Park was criticized after news of his mural appeared online Friday, because the mural is virtually identical to an image Ethiopian-born artist Gelila Mesfin made in the fall. Devins raised nearly $12,000 through a GoFundMe campaign in November to create the mural outside of Bouchet Elementary School— two blocks from the former first lady's childhood home at 7436 S. Euclid Ave.

Anthony A. Wilson, who lives a block east of the mural in a home he has been in for 47 years, called the situation "plagiarism.” He said Mesfin should be credited prominently.

But he said the artwork itself is beautiful, Wilson said and he wouldn’t want to see the mural removed. On Sunday he saw different people looking at it and taking photos.

“It’s nice,” he said. “It brings positivity and encouragement so a lot of [young people can] know what they can achieve" in life.

Valerie Andrews-Lewis, a South Shore resident, said that as a sign of respect Devins should’ve not only gotten permission from Mesfin, but also the Obamas.

“He’s from outside the community,” she said. “Mrs. Obama was from inside the community, she went to this school. Her mom still lives in the neighborhood. He should have given them the respect and saw exactly what they wanted done.”

The entire situation was poorly handled, she said.

Tony Thomas, 44, who lives in the building that has the mural on the side, said that he first noticed it Saturday and was surprised.

“It’s a nice piece of art,” he said. “It adds beauty to the property.”

Mesfin deserves to be credited, but he said he wouldn’t want to see the mural removed because art is for everyone to see.

“I would hope they would finish the building with some other artwork because it brings value, it brings art to the community,” he said.

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 features a huge poster of "queen of gospel" Mahalia Jackson and a building at 4301 S. King Drive that has a mural of Nat King Cole.

He and Devins have worked together in the past so when Devins reached out, asking for a building for the Michelle Obama mural when CPS said no, Feldman said yes.

“Chris’ artwork is always on the positive side,” he said. “He’s from the community, so his work is done by someone from community and it’s for the community. All the murals he’s done have been of positive role models, whether current or past.”

Removing the mural isn’t up to Feldman, he said. “It’s his call.”

“I just don’t see that this being taken down as a win-win,” he said. “To take it down would be a losing situation for the community because the whole point was to put up a positive image of the first lady,” he said, which would be a visual source of inspiration for the neighborhood’s children and residents.  

The next step he would like to see after both artists resolve their dispute would be to do some sort of collaborative work of the Obamas.