Newark - The light that informs his art first struck Sunil Garg as a child.
"Growing up in India, the light was all natural. We used to sleep outside in the summertime, and you looked at the sky, and the stars were right there," said Garg, a light sculptor whose art will be featured at the Newark Arts' "Flashes of Genius" gala next month honoring community arts supporter Ellen Lambert. "People take light for granted, but it really resonates with me."
Garg uses both computer-programmed and natural light in his art, as he continues to evolve as an artist, using light-emitting diodes (LED) and strip lights to create his work.
"I like to make dynamic sculpture that is refreshed all the time. Nothing alive is static. Natural light changes all the time," said Garg, 66. "Using the lights, you can make small changes throughout the day. You can control the way people look at things. People take light for granted, until you don't have it. This work is a whole different thing."
Recently, Garg has been involved in a project that originated across the Hudson River with the New York Foundation for the Arts, a non-profit dedicated to supporting emerging artists and arts organizations.
After receiving a grant from the Ford Foundation, the NYFA expanded in efforts to four cities nationwide, including Newark. One of the key parts of the program's growth has been the emergence of an immigrant artist program that pairs mentors with mentees one-on-one for a period of three months.
The inaugural program in Newark, which included the participation of poets, writers, performance artists and traditional artists, finished earlier this month.
"How do you bridge the gap between places that will showcase our art and the pool of artists in the Newark area? How do you navigate the cultural landscape? We have a very strong immigrant culture here," Garg said. "All artists need to learn that they're not just artists. They're entrepreneurs. Most artists don't learn that. This is way for them to learn how to engage the power structure and learn the means to success."
The new Newark Immigrant Artists support group is now working with students from Rutgers Business School to create a business plan for an immigrant artists cultural center in the city.
The corporate community is also an anchor for artists in Newark. Garg work will be featured at "Flashes of Genius" gala to be held on April 11 inside the recently-refurbished Rutgers-Newark building at 15 Washington Street in Newark's revitalizing downtown. Lambert, the event's honoree, was president of the PSEG Foundation, director of corporate citizenship and responsibility, and the chief diversity officer for one of Newark's anchor corporate citizens.
"It's very important to work with corporate community members like PSE&G and people like Ellen Lambert," Garg said. "She insisted that there should be a true focus on the arts."
Garg believes that further focus about the Newark arts scene could be spread throughout the state through an ambassador-like, public outreach program that would spread the word about what is artistically going on in the city to suburban towns such as Montclair, South Orange, and Summit.
In the meantime, Garg continues his work. His light sculptures include large pieces, with one 15 feet in length and another nine and a half feet tall. His work is meant to be seen not just in museums or in galleries, but in public places traversed by a wide cross-section of society.
"All art is public. Otherwise it's meaningless. You can attract more people to Newark through structural public art that is interesting, like the murals along McCarter Highway," Garg said. "I don't see any reason why companies like Prudential, PSE&G and Audible wouldn't be more attracted to a city like Newark if it had a cultural vibe that showed that it was part of cutting-edge public art presentations."
For Garg, the proof in this premise comes from an interaction he had on the street in downtown Newark.
"I did an huge installation recently in a storefront on Market Street with changing lights. It was from November through May, so it was dark in the dead of winter," Garg said. "One time the bus came, the driver stopped, looked at me and asked 'Are you the person that put this up? I said 'I am.' And he said, 'I come by here every day, and I can tell you by the minute what light sequence your piece is going to be in. I look for it.' The bus driver was able to get out of himself for a minute or so. I want people to look. I want people to try to see."
For more info about the work of Sunil Garg, visit www.sunilgarg3d.com.
For more info about the 2018 "Flashes of Genius" gala honoring Ellen Lambert, visit newarkarts.org/flashesofgenius. All proceeds to benefit Newark Arts.