AK: Anchorage

“Finding My Song,” detail, wood and rawhide, 2012 by Da-ka-xeen Mehner.

WHERE: Anchorage Museum.

WHEN: Goes on view Friday, September 7 through November 11, 2012.

TITLE: Finding My Song

BRIEF ABOUT: As part of the Patricia B. Wolf Solo Exhibition Series, Chief Curator Julie Decker said Mehner was chosen for a solo exhibition because his work is provocative and powerful. “Da-ka is adept at working with a variety of media, from sculpture to video to photography,” she said. “Each medium serves his thoughtful approach to his own mixed-race heritage and universal themes of language and belonging.”

     Born in Fairbanks to a Tlingit/N’ishga mother and a Caucasian father, Da-ka-xeen Mehner (http://da-ka-xeen.com)  (pronounced DAY-ka-kheen Mayner – the “x” sounds like a guttural “h”) was raised in two different environments: One as an urban Native in Anchorage and the other as a rural hippie near Fairbanks living without electricity, running water or a phone. From these perspectives, he studies the constructs of Native American identity.

     Much of the work in this exhibition expresses Mehner’s belief that culture transcends generations through music and in this case, the drum. He was strongly influenced by an experience he shared with his young son while at Celebration, a biennial festival of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian tribal members in Juneau. His son was transfixed by the drumming he experienced at Celebration, and so he began to drum. He drummed so passionately that soon his drum had to be re-skinned.

     When Da-ka-xeen Mehner’s grandmother spoke Tlingit in school as a young girl, her teachers would wash her mouth out with soap to “encourage” her to speak English. This is just one of the family stories that Mehner drew upon to create the multimedia installations that takes a personal look at the retention and reclamation of language.

     The centerpiece of Mehner’s exhibition is a large structure resembling a longhouse, the traditional dwelling of many North American indigenous peoples. Bars of soap are housed inside, representing the soap that washed out the mouths of Native schoolchildren, including his grandmother. Drums provide a surface for film projections, representing his son’s reclamation of language. Daggers protect what has been regained.

      Mehner’s work has been exhibited throughout the United States and is in the collections of the Anchorage Museum; University of Alaska Museum of the North, Fairbanks; Institute of American Indian Arts Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico and the Alaska State Museum, Juneau.

     He is an assistant professor of Native Arts at UAF, where he is also director of the Native Arts Center. 

MORE DETAILS: www.anchoragemuseum.org.

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