Mixed (media) message: Buffalo artist blends painting with calligraphy in new GCC exhibit

Jan 24, 2019

BATAVIA — A message — both literal and figurative — exists in each of Muhammad Zaman’s paintings. They often speak of love, beauty and peace. But you might need a translator to decipher them.

Zaman, a Muslim immigrant from Bangladesh who came to the United States when he was 11, blends painting with calligraphy to spread his message of unity. His art, much like the east side of Buffalo where he grew up, is a cultural melting pot using languages that represent three facets of his life: English, because he lives in America; Bengali, because of where he was born; and Arabic, because it is the language of his religion.

“I want to send a message of togetherness and peace, a small effort to bring three, at times, socially opposing cultures together,” Zaman said.

An exhibit of Zaman’s work is now on display in the Rosalie “Roz” Steiner Art Gallery at Genesee Community College. “Finding Amal” opened Tuesday and will stay up until Feb. 22.

As a child growing up in a rough neighborhood, Zaman attended an Islamic school at time in this country when being a Muslim drew a lot of unwanted negative attention. Zaman admitted to being a “shy, weird kid with a pen and a notebook.”

Trying to ignore some of the ugliness he saw in the world, he found inspiration in two distinctly different art forms: calligraphy and graffiti. He saw equal beauty in the delicate handwriting of calligraphy, and the brash, colorful graffiti that permeated his neighborhood.

“As a practicing Muslim, I am not allowed to paint figures, so I have always played with letters, graffiti, and abstract designs,” Zaman said. “I discovered later that there is an entire art movement called Hurufiyya. At the time, I was just a kid with a love for ancient calligraphy.”

Each of Zaman’s paintings blends abstract images with calligraphy to present a colorful yet succinct message. Each of them spreads hope. While the message may not be clear to the viewer, Zaman always leaves one word that is easily identified.

“I would like my audience to discover a letter from their language and feel connected,” Zaman said. “I found more curiosity towards almost illegible works, as the audience feel the challenge to decode and comprehend.”

Having gained international attention in the past few years, Zaman has exhibited in New York City, Washington, D.C., Denver, London and Luxembourg. He is also a resident artist at the Buffalo Arts Studio.

“Not only is Muhammad’s work aesthetically appealing, it has such a beautiful concept,” said Mary Jo Whitman, director of the Steiner Gallery. “Every work has a message of hope and inspiration.”

Zaman will give an artist talk at 12:30 p.m. Jan. 31 followed by receptions at 1 and 5 p.m. at the Steiner Gallery, 1 College Road.

By Matt Krueger, Batavia Daily News