For Alison Bremner Nax̲shag̲eit, Tlingit culture is constantly changing and growing — and she’s all for showing different aspects of it that might go under people’s radar.
In her new solo exhibit, “Midnight at the Fireworks Stand,” which opened Friday at the Alaska State Museum, Bremner’s 17 piece-collection of contemporary art depicts different stories and aspects of Tlingit and Indigenous life that often go unnoticed, through bright colors, unusual objects and humor.
Bremner, who is from Yakutat and grew up in Juneau, said her art is heavily influenced by her Tlingit heritage, and she works to show different aspects of the ever-evolving culture. Her work spans multiple mediums including painting, woodcarving, regalia and digital, and she is believed to be the first Tlingit woman to carve and raise a totem pole.
Bremner said the “Midnight at the Fireworks Stand” exhibit spotlights multiple series within the collection, a lot of which feature bright colors and humorous aspects as a way to lure people in to be more open to the underlying messages within the pieces.
For example, she explained the pieces, “Midnight at the Fireworks Stand,” “Lil Baby with the Brass Knuckles” and “Systems Built on Slavery Aren’t Meant to Last” as a series of three separate stories that are loosely intertwined to depict the poverty-to-prison pipeline that often disproportionately affects Indigenous communities.
Some of the pieces are a collision of neon northwest coast elements over a backdrop of famous classical pieces turned anew, while other pieces highlight traditional Tlingit regalia combined with a smattering of Ty Beanie Babies and other reminders of youth that gives a sense of playful absurdity to the more serious underlying themes portrayed throughout the collection.
“I like to show different aspects of the culture,” she said. “The humor, because there’s a lot of humorous aspects of Tlingit culture but I suppose it’s hard to see sometimes.”
Bremner said she was always drawn to art since she was a kid, recalling she wanted to be a ballerina, astronaut or an artist when she grew up, though she never thought any of those jobs would be her reality. Though Bremner practiced art into her adulthood and even studied under master Tsimshian artists David R. Boxley and David A. Boxley, she didn’t become a full-time artist until 2012 when David R. Boxley pushed her to take the leap of faith.
“I was having a conversation with him about how I wanted to be an artist and wanted to get a job to be an artist and he looked at me and said ‘Why don’t you just be an artist?’ and that was the push I needed,” she said.
Jackie Manning, Alaska State Museum’s curator of exhibitions, said Bremner was one of the artists chosen in 2019 from the museum’s open call for Alaska solo artists to feature their work. Manning said the Alaska State Museum biannually selects Alaska artists to exhibit their artwork in temporary galleries of the museums. She said artists are chosen typically at least a year before their work is featured.
The pieces in Bremner’s exhibit were all mostly created in 2022 at her home studio in Seattle where her 4-year-old daughter, Olive, often lends her a helping hand.
Bremner said she hopes people come to visit her work and find a connection to the pieces and their roots in Southeast Alaska and Alaska Native culture. She said she is committed to using her voice and art to aid the revitalization of the Tlingit culture and language and to help it continue to grow as a culture.
“I put everything into the art because that’s just how I see things, I never thought I could be an artist and make a living off it — but I just can’t live without it,” Bremner said. “It’s just like an innate need, kind of a life force.”
Know & Go
What: Alison Bremner Nax̲shag̲eit’s solo exhibit “Midnight at the Fireworks Stand”
When: Nov. 4 through Jan. 7
Where: Alaska State Museum, 395 Whittier St., Andrew P. Kashevaroff Building.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at email@example.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.