Mural Inspired by PBS' 'American Portrait' Pops Up in San Francisco

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A mural designed by Oakland-based artist Jocelyn Tsaih graces a Mission Street wall in San Francisco, one of seven around the country as part of PBS' 'American Portrait' series.
A mural designed by Oakland-based artist Jocelyn Tsaih graces a Mission Street wall in San Francisco, one of seven around the country as part of PBS' 'American Portrait' series. (PBS/RadicalMedia)

Months after one of the most contentious elections in U.S. history, and just weeks after an attempted coup at our nation's capitol, the idea of national identity is as omnipresent in the minds of the American people as ever. We are constantly asking ourselves what it means to be an American today.

If you’ve noticed a brand-new mural near the corner of Mission and Fifth Streets, then you’ve seen a small sliver of the answer.

“In each city we tried to find something that felt perfect for this moment,” explains Bill Margol of PBS, who helped commission the mural. “And God knows it’s an interesting moment.”

For their American Portrait project, PBS and production partner RadicalMedia gathered over 12,000 responses to a series of prompts, in mediums ranging from photos to text to video. Some of those submissions will be commemorated by public murals, in seven cities across the country—Washington D.C., New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, and San Francisco.

The mural being painted.
The mural being painted. (PBS/RadicalMedia)

Margol explains that the San Francisco mural was inspired by the prompt “I took a risk when...” In response, Lawrence W. submitted a story about coming out as trans to his parents, classmates, and teachers. The ending line of his story, “Life is so much better now that I’m being who I really am,” was selected as the quote for San Francisco’s mural and sent to a Bay Area-based artist for interpretation.

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“We tried where we could to find artists that were from the area,” Margol adds. San Francisco's mural was designed by Taiwan-born, Shanghai-raised, and Oakland-based artist Jocelyn Tsaih. “She has this beautiful style of these bold colors and figures,” says Margol. “She created this leaping figure amongst flowers that just looks so joyous, because it feels like it is embodying this idea of life being so much better.”

More information about the American Portrait project can be found here.