“Bulletproof Ambition” celebrates the life and work of Jerry Gant

Photo courtesy of Jenna Craig.

A plethora of colorful pants cover the back wall of the Kresge Gallery from the ceiling to the floor. Each pair of pants was dyed in layers, switching back and forth between fabric dye and bleach. The technique, part of “Gantalism,” and the recognizable design is unique to Jerry Gant, a Black American multimedia artist from Newark, N.J..

“Bulletproof Ambition: The Art of Jerry Gant'' is a touring exhibition curated by Linda Street, a friend and business partner of Gant for 13 years. From Feb. 28 through April 6, the collection will live in the Kresge Gallery in the Berrie Center. Next door at the Pascal Gallery is “A Few Friends, Newark,” a collection of work from Newark artists Jean-Marc Superville Sovak and Manuel Acevedo.

“Newark is super close, but a lot of people don’t go there,” said Rachel Sawyer-Walker, Associate Director of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Compliance. “But there’s a lot of rich history particularly for Black artists.”

Inspired by his passion for the arts, Gant coined the term “Bulletproof Ambition” in the ‘90s, according to the opening statement of the exhibition. He was a key arts and culture figure in Newark for decades and sadly passed away from liver cancer in 2018, according to WNYC.

Linda Street, Chief Chick of Pink Dragon Artist Syndicate LLC., wanted to make sure this presentation of “Bulletproof Ambition” really stood out, especially after a two-month run at Rutgers University. She said in 2011, Gant’s work was featured at the Kresge Gallery in a group exhibition of Newark artists. As soon as she toured the space and saw that back wall, Street knew it was the perfect spot. The pants display was built with the help of faculty and student aides.

“It has a special significance in that way, coming home in a sense,” said Street. “But the idea that this is his solo exhibition– he would have really loved this, so that makes me proud.”

Street visited a visual arts class earlier in the day to speak more in depth about the process. Visual arts senior Veronika Miller was enamored by the exhibit’s documentary screening, located in the Pascal Gallery. 

“I didn’t know him, but now I feel more connected,” said Miller. “Because it’s hard to see more Black artists to show that we too can make cool, amazing art, even though we don’t have to have expensive or big budgets.”

Looking around the gallery, each piece was made of materials like wood, wire, clothing, textiles, purses, jewelry, etc. Miller noted how he created impactful art using accessible and inexpensive materials. 

Miller spent time chatting with Tiffany Salas, a collection specialist at the Jerry Gant Legacy Collection. “Representation matters," said Salas. "You really feel that if this genius of a gentleman can produce this, then there’s no stopping us, we can do it.”

Two of Gant’s standout pieces in the exhibit include impressions of faces in vinyl records, an array of soft denim sculptures and other street objects that make faces, whether deliberately or hidden in the zippers and design of a purse. Sawyer-Walker pointed out how the different items included in the sculptures represent Black culture, such as some of them having mouths with grills on their teeth.

The mixed media art pieces in the Pascal Gallery also have roots in Black culture, inspired by graffiti, architecture, history and more. Having both side by side makes for an interesting moment of comparing and contrasting Newark giants like Gant with current Newark artists.

Salas said the art in “Bulletproof Ambition” is only a fraction of what Gant left behind. 

“He inspired people globally, just being from our city of Newark,” said Salas. “I feel very honored to be able to forward his legacy in this way.”