Author: Nicole Murray
In the same way that Western music has its roots in religious tradition, the interconnection between religion and art has been symbiotic; both evolve in a co-dependent fashion to reflect social, cultural and technological changes over time. Although the study of religion is primarily accomplished through text, the aesthetic qualities of religious works of art have remained integral as a connection between the soul and the interpretation of these texts. Classic examples of this can be seen in the works of art by Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael, and modern artists such as sculptor Tanavoli and street artist El Seed, again look to spirituality as a source of inspiration for their work. This global movement has seen echoes here in Buffalo with artists and arts organizations focusing their work on spiritual themes and messages.
Buffalo is a city with a long tradition of welcoming immigrants from all over the world and the artists and religious or spiritual works of art that can be found here are representative of these diverse cultures. One artist who has made a name for himself locally and globally is Muhammad Zaman, who specializes in Arabic calligraphy. He is a studio artist at Buffalo Arts Studio and his work can be seen in murals and exhibits all over town.
Visual artist Muhammad Zaman arrived in the United States at the age of eleven. A shy child, he used his paper and pen to escape and write in his old worlds. At that time, he was attending an Islamic school and learned the Arabic language alongside English and Bengali, which is the language of his homeland. Growing up on the East Side, he often looked at the wagons and colorful graffiti, which markedly relieved the gray that surrounded the area. Although he never did illegal graffiti, the idea for this popular form of street art came to fruition and he eventually learned to incorporate Islamic calligraphy into his art. Since then, he has integrated the three languages ââthat make up his identity in his work.
Early in his career, Muhammad was inspired by the work of Hassan Massoudy, an Iraqi painter and calligrapher who is attributed to the inspiration of a whole generation of âcalligraffitiâ artists. In fact, it was Massoudy who inspired the other influence of Muhammad, the Tunisian artist el Seed, another calligraffiti artist, to start his work. Said Muhammad of el Seed, “I was influenced by the artist el Seed and his idea of ââcreating unity for people of different origins, ethnicities and religions. He inspired me conceptually, not just aesthetically. I was amazed by his mural work Perception, painted in Cairo in 2016. It is still my favorite mural of all time.
This mural (see photo in inset), located at Manshiyat Nasr in Cairo, is an incredible sight to see. It is a circle of interwoven calligraphy painted on over 50 buildings and is only fully visible from one vantage point, Muqattam Mountain, where St. Simon’s Monastery sits inside a cave. The Arabic text reads: “Ø¥Ù Ø£Ø±Ø§Ø¯ Ø£ØØ¯ Ø£Ù ÛØ¨ØµØ± Ø§ÙØ´Ù Ø³ Ø ÙØ¥Ù Ø¹ÙÛÚ¾ Ø£Ù ÛÙ Ø³Ø Ø¹ÛÙÛÚ¾” (“Anyone who wants to see the sunlight must wipe their eyes first.”) The mural was a testament to the power of the arts to bring together a community and a message of hope and peace to all of its residents.
Likewise, Muhammad aims to inspire people in the same way with his work. He notices : “My goal is to inspire people to share the same place and to learn from each other in harmony and mutual understanding. I want people of different cultures and religions to be able to do this and raise their children this way. I never talk about my religion in my paintings, I talk about those values ââthat most religions have in common, such as respect, peace and mutual aid.
Mr. Zaman’s works are complex and leave a different impression on each member of the audience. âThe mixture of languages ââI use and the further artistic elaboration of the composition involving the juxtaposition of different layers of colors and words will make the work unreadable,â the artist said of his work. âThe more the audience has trouble reading the words they contain, the more they’ll try to understand their meaning, and this interaction between the work and the audience is what surprises me the most. But there are a lot of people who like my art as abstract art, and that’s fine with me. I like it to be like a private dialogue between the painting and each of the spectators.
Muhammad’s works are instantly recognizable and luckily for western New York City there are quite a few of them everywhere you look. In fact, he was the artist in summer residence at Artpark in Lewiston where he painted the âUnity In Diversityâ mural whose vibrant colors extend along the South 4th Street entrance to the park. Her work can also be found for sale online and in her studio at Buffalo Art Studio in the Tri Main Center. In 2022, he plans to complete two murals and one will be at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. It will also be featured during a show at Book Arts in the Literary District of downtown Buffalo.
For more information on the work of Muhammad Zaman, you can visit his website: zmnart.com.
Main picture: Street Murals @ The BNMC – âMarchons ensembleâ