Nearly seven years ago, Brema Brema and his family moved from Africa to the United States with the help of the United Nations. Today, Brema has risen from the mere coyness of his childhood as a reputable Milwaukee photographer and designer. With nearly 50,000 followers on Instagram and connections in major cities, Brema is known for his moody aesthetics, portraits, and captivating photos of cityscapes. Through the inventive lens of a quiet, independent 20-year-old, is born the brands “Optic Legacy” and “Unfinished Legacy” in the hood of Milwaukee.
Brema was born in Sudan, but once the country underwent war, his family fled Sudan to seek refuge in Kenya. He describes life in the refuge camp as “rough” as there were consistent food and water shortages. Eventually, Brema’s parents started a business selling household needs. The store ultimately grew and was the only place that had a TV, which was a big deal at the camp. People would gather to watch soccer games and stay updated with the news in Sudan. Brema describes the store as a “hub” for the people in the refuge camp. This is when his creativity began to bloom.
Brema started drawing and painting during the time of his parent’s hub. With the growing money from the store, Brema’s parents sent him to a boarding school when he was around ten years old in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. He stayed there for about a year and began learning more English, but admits it is still not his strongest subject.
While Brema was away, his parents store was robbed by a gang of natives who shot his uncle that was living and working at the store. A week later, the United Nations came to his family’s house and helped his family move to Nairobi. Eventually, his family was chosen to come to the United States. The United Nations paid for his family’s housing and helped him and his siblings with schooling. The change of environment and schooling was tough for Brema, admitting it was his first time seeing a kid talk back to a teacher.
“I would have friends in school, but it was all temporary because I knew we were going to move,” said Brema. “Friendships for me during my childhood was kind of rough. Coming here, I was a lone wolf. I would just go to class, do my work, keep to myself, and go home and draw or paint. Then I picked up skateboarding.”
It wasn’t until Brema started high school at Riverside University near UWM that he began to figure out what he was passionate about. He played soccer his entire life and when junior year came around, his drive began to decrease.
“It wasn’t my thing anymore,” Brema said. “I didn’t like the competition. I hate competing and relying on other people. Most of the things I am into right now are things I can do by myself if I don’t have other people to go do it with. Skateboarding, I can just grab my board and go skate. I can grab a paint brush or pencil and draw. Same with photography. I like shooting more people now, but before it was just landscape; photographing anything I saw interesting.”
The independence Brema possess entertains his hunger to expand his creativity. He began shooting off his first camera – his cellphone. Junior year of high school he would take pictures with his friends. When his friends continued to comment on how compelling his photos were, Brema decided photography is something he could pursue.
His first real camera was a film camera that he still carries in his bag with him nearly everyday. He won it at a gallery out of a two-dollar raffle. Film photography taught Brema about exposure and how to see light since he wouldn’t see his work until after it was developed. A year later, he bought his first digital camera; a Canon T3I and started shooting skateboarding. Later while attending UWM for a year for graphic design, he used his scholarship money to buy a Canon 70D. He would later sell that camera for a full frame Sony A7R II, which he still uses today.
In-between photography, high school, internships, and eventually college, Brema started his clothing brand “Unfinished Legacy” and his photography brand “Optic Legacy”. Amidst his artistic workload, he began attending the urban arts school TRUE Skool.
“TRUE Skool is something I dreamt of before I even knew it existed,” said Brema. “Coming to America, I didn’t really have many friends or people I could relate to. I always dreamt of a place where I could go and meet other creatives and TRUE Skool was just that.”
The school paved a way for Brema to make connections within the Milwaukee community that would further serve his growth.
“He is a leader in his creative endeavors and in the community,” said Chris Piszczek of Public Allies Americorps. “I have seen him develop skills that are going to propel his craft to the next level. There are a lot of people excited to see how Brema grows his Legacy, and I don’t think we will have to wait too long.”
The school and Instagram community is where Brema began to brand his work. The brands are imaginative exertion that took months to carefully select. His Instagram account used to be “Brema_Legacy” – a word that stuck with him.
“The letter structure and the meaning behind it, I feel like it is universal,” said Brema. “Everyone has a legacy and as long as you’re living, it is never finished. People like MLK, Malcom X, Nelson Mandela – we are still building onto their legacies by fighting for equalities.”
The word optic however, stemmed from his eye for visual aesthetics. He knew he wanted his keen sight to play a role in his branding. While searching synonyms, he was allured by the word “optic” due to its visual appearance. He notes his eye for graphics origins from growing up with the graffiti culture.
As for “Unfinished”, it began at his internship with Milwaukee Art Museum. He was sitting in a circle with other kids when they were asked to describe themselves in one word.
“This one girl said ‘unfinished’ and that word really resonated with me, my goals, my life, and aspirations,” said Brema. “When I was walking home, I put the two (unfinished and legacy) together and it made sense. The meaning behind both of them is very important to me.”
From there on, his brands were born and became native to the Milwaukee community. His clothing brand and photography, however, are two different things. Brema, doesn’t even consider himself a photographer, a humble statement from an individual many turn to for portraits and even music videos.
“As an artist, there’s no limit on what he can do,” said JalenG, part of music group ADHD. “He creates visuals that make you want to keep rewinding and watch over. It’s fun working alongside him because you know the outcome of whatever you guys are working on will be amazing.”
Brema’s Instagram is known for shooting cities and architectures. His taste for being in the city, yet felling minuscule to his surroundings. His photos are, according to him, what people want to see; what is visually appealing to the human eye.
“I am shooting what people want to see so I can grow my page and brand,” admitted Brema. “Then I can start branching out slowly into conceptual, more portraits.”
His struggle as a photographer is that he is multi-talented and it is hard to focus on one thing. Though, he is overcoming the idea of shooting what people want to see. He is beginning a new project where he will shoot what he sees every day. He describes the new vision as raw.
“I feel like Milwaukee, on the North side, the hood, there is not much opportunities being handed to the youth that is living there,” he said. “I want to remain in Milwaukee and try to be the voice for those I encounter on a day to day basis. Seeing all these dope creative kids, I call them ‘geniuses from the hood.’ They need a platform. I think I can at least try to do that. Represent their culture and bring it into a light.”
He expresses his desire to slowly incorporate this rawness into his Instagram and brands, stating “What I post on Instagram (now) doesn’t hold much meaning to me.”
As a growing artist who also lives “in the hood”, Brema doesn’t seem to slow down. His visions and artistic ideas gets watered daily. His new studio, an upcoming gallery showcase of his new work, look books, and the longing to open up a store pushes his dreams to something perpetual and boundless. He plans to shoot with film, blow up children’s portraits, and put them in his studio and someday store, hoping to inspire kids.
With his feet already wet, Brema visions his store representing where he came from, not necessarily Africa, but a life he always knew – street culture. This includes skateboarding, graffiti, art, and photography. This way of expression is something Brema obsesses over and is reflected in his work.
“I want it to be a hub where people can go to be themselves and get fresh gear that are made by the creative minds in Milwaukee,” said Brema.
A hub that circled from his creative childhood to his forthcoming artistic future.