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Family, Tlingit culture inspires Da-ka-xeen Mehner's solo exhibition at Anchorage Museum

“Finding My Song” on view Sept. 7 through Nov. 11 at Anchorage Museum

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 featured in his first Anchorage Museum solo exhibition. “Finding My Song,” on view Sept. 7 through Nov. 11, takes a personal look at the retention and reclamation of language.

Born in Fairbanks to a Tlingit/N’ishga mother and a Caucasian father, Da-ka-xeen Mehner (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 culturetranscends generations through music — in this case, the drum. Mehner 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 reskinned.

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

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.”

Museum visitors can learn more about Mehner’s exhibition at his free lecture 7 p.m. Sept. 6. He will also answer visitors’ questions in the gallery from 7 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 7.

Mehner earned a bachelor’s degree in studio arts from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, and a master’s degree in Native arts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he now teaches and serves as director of the UAF Native Arts Center.

This exhibition is presented as part of the Patricia B. Wolf Solo Exhibition Series. The Anchorage Museum is grateful to the Alaska State Council on the Arts; the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency; the Municipality of Anchorage; and the Anchorage Museum Foundation’s Alaska Airlines Silver Anniversary Fund for ongoing support of the museum’s important solo exhibition series.

ANCHORAGE MUSEUM

The Anchorage Museum is the largest museum in Alaska and one of the top 10 mostvisited attractions in the state. The museum’s mission is to share and connect Alaska with the world through art, history and science. Learn more online at www.anchoragemuseum.org.

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