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Pay Me $12K And Apologize, Artist Behind 'Stolen' Michelle Obama Image Says

By Andrea V. Watson | May 3, 2017 3:56pm | Updated on May 3, 2017 4:04pm
 Gelila Mesfin (top inset) created an image of Michelle Obama that Chris Devins (bottom inset) used to create this mural on a South Side building.
Gelila Mesfin (top inset) created an image of Michelle Obama that Chris Devins (bottom inset) used to create this mural on a South Side building.
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SOUTH SHORE — The artist whose digital art was copied to create a mural of Michelle Obama in South Shore is seeking $12,000 — along with additional damages — from the man who used the image without her permission.

A letter sent this week from artist Gelila Mesfin's legal team demands Hyde Park artist and urban planner Chris Devins, who put up the mural, pay her $12,000 — the amount of money Devins raised through a GoFundMe he set up last year to fund the project. Mesfin has said her image was "stolen" by Devins to make the mural, but Devins has said he initially didn't know she created it, and he credited her as soon as he found out.

The letter also asks for a public apology and a plaque acknowledging that Mesfin created the image.

Finally, the letter asks for additional compensation for "the other damages suffered as a result of your willful infringement of her copyrights and moral rights."


Devins was given a 7 p.m. Wednesday deadline to agree to the terms. While the letter seeks a "good faith" agreement, it says Mesfin is prepared to sue if Devins does not agree.

Mesfin, who also goes by Gelila Mesfin Shenkut, could not be reached for comment, nor could her lawyer or publicist.

The above letter was sent from Gelila Mesfin to Chris Devins this week.

Devins said he's already working on a proper plaque to hang by the mural, which is at 74th Street and Chappel Avenue near Obama's childhood elementary school. The plaque would credit Mesfin as the artist and Devins as the "placemaker/muralist."

However, he has indicated that he isn't prepared to pay anywhere near what she has asked for. He has noted that licensing fees on Getty Images range from $175 to $500. He told the Atlantic he'd be willing to pay up to $1,000.

He also pointed out that prints of her work are on sale online for $12.

Devins said he wasn't worried about the demands and he already spent the money he raised on putting up the mural.

"I'm not afraid of the attorney. I have my own now," Devins said in an email late Tuesday. "They are asking for [money] that has been raised by me months ago, based on my former good reputation, money that was spent."

RELATED: Chicago Artists on Michelle Obama Mural Flap: 'It's A Shame'

He said he did not personally profit from the mural and noted that he has been widely criticized.

"The mural is a public service; there's no earnings," the email said. "I sell no T-shirts, mugs, prints or anything like that. If they ask for future earnings based on all the publicity I got, I can point out that the publicity was overwhelmingly negative and that she also got publicity, the majority positive, painting her as the victim of some conspiracy to steal something she is selling online for $12."

He said the demand from the attorney was based on a value he established.

"It is I who created the $12,000, the value in this project, based on my mural skills, placemaking, project management, fund raising and former good reputation," he said.