Da-Ka-Xeen Mehner's Artist Statement on Self-Constructions

This body of work comes from growing up as a cross-cultural man in Alaska and my search for a definition of what it is to be a Native American today. I Culturally identify myself as Tlingit and American Hippy.

In going through the museum archives online, I stumbled across a description of an image of a Tlingit man named Da-yuk-hene, which is almost certainly a phonetic variation of my name, Da-ka-xeen. This launched me on an examination of photographic visual history. This image was taken by Case and Draper in Juneau, Alaska in 1906. As I studied our visual history and writings on Native Americans, I realized that it is an outsider view of my culture that I am left with. The Case and Draper images are a perfect example of the constructed identity of Native-ness through the lens of the “other”. I feel a need to deconstruct the images of the past. Reinterpreting the image, I reconstruct the pose but with the tools I use on a daily basis. The camera I had received from my Uncle, and the adze I had made for myself and wearing the jacket my mother, had given me for my wedding day. In each image I change the text to reflect my presence in the reinterpreted image.

By mirroring this image, I attempt to reflect both the truth and fiction of this history. This mirrored format is derived from the bilateral form-line design structure commonly found in carved screens. What is fact and what is false in our photographic history taken by others is vague. They exist side by side and for me, reflecting and reconstructing these images helps me identify both. By reversing the archival image, I attempt to reverse the history constructed about Native peoples.

In my continuing examination of identity, I looked to my own C.I.B. card. The CIB card is a Certificate of Indian Blood which is issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Anyone that wants to be recognized by the U.S. as a Native American has to have a CIB to identify what percentage of “Indian” they are. To be federally recognized, you must have at least ¼ Indian Blood. I’m 7/16ths Alaska Native, and the card goes on to break my Native identity into smaller categories, to 3/16th Indian (which should read Tlingit) and ¼ Tsimpshian (which should read Nisga’a).

I have a birthmark on my chin that makes my goatee grow in white on one side. For years I’ve been cutting my beard and saving the trimmings. I’ve often contemplated about how my birthmark is a visual representation of my cultural heritage, and use it in the artwork.