Great gathering! Honored to be a part of the conversation.
Da-ka-xeen Mehner - Tlingit/N'ishga
Interview by Catherine Cooper
Catherine Cooper: Your artwork sends very powerful messages. Examples I think of are Blood Work with the cutting of your multicolored beard and the photo 7/16th with your Native American identification information superimposed on a photo of your face. Also, the photos of you in the hanging cage in your early photography work engaged my mind with images of a pseudo type of freedom. The hidden figure wrapped in barbed wire from Surviving also sticks in my mind. What ideas are you driven to communicate through your artwork?
11 Years of Beards
11 Years of Beards
Da-ka-xeen Mehner: The ideas I try to convey change over time, but at the heart of the work I feel like I do what most artists are doing, defining myself in the time and space that I live. The Surviving and early works were a way for me to process my childhood. Growing up with all the trappings of the urban Indian experience, poverty, alcoholism both with my family and my own wrestlings with alcohol, abuse and the shame and hiding of all these things that came out in the early work. With the blood work and the 7/16 I want to communicate to the world that we as Native people have this system of identification placed upon us. It is a system that creates a schism in the collective minds of Native people. It is a system that I find many people do not know about, every time I show the piece there are at least a few people I have to explain the CIB card to.
CC: I am currently studying photography. This term my project involves self-portraits and is titled Plural Identity. This feels like a highly self-revealing project. Blood Work and some of your early photography work involve a lot of self-portraiture. The staged photos from Reinterpretation Gallery 2 also involve self-portraits. What leads you to use self-portraiture as a form of expression?
DM: I find self-portraiture to be a great way to examine the self in relation to the world. I feel free to comment on large issues but centered from a personal perspective. I was once asked if I thought of myself as a political artist, and I never felt comfortable speaking for anyone else, but myself. I can make work about the “blood-quantum” system or the construct of historical photographs, which affects all Native Americans, but from my own personal vantage point.
Nice interview from a few year ago.