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Art at the Intersection of Culture and Spirituality: Spotlight – Muhammad Zaman

Author: Nicole Murray

In the same way that western music has its roots in religious tradition, the interconnectedness between religion and art has been symbiotic; both evolving codependently to reflect social, cultural, and technological changes over time. Though the study of religion is mostly accomplished through text, the aesthetic qualities of religious artwork have remained integral as a connection between the soul and the interpretation of these texts. Classical examples of this can be seen in the artwork of Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael, and modern artists such as the sculptor Tanavoli, and the street artist El Seed, are once again turning 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 around spiritual themes and messages.

Buffalo is a city that has a longstanding tradition of welcoming immigrants from across the globe and the artists and religious or spiritual artwork that can be found here are representative of these diverse cultures. One artist that has been making a name for himself in the local and global scene is Muhammad Zaman who specializes in Arabic calligraphy. He is a studio artist at the Buffalo Arts Studio and his work can be seen as murals and at exhibitions throughout the city. 

Visual artist Muhammad Zaman came to the United States when he was eleven years old. A shy kid, he used his paper and pen to escape and write within his old worlds. At this point in time, he was going to an Islamic school and learned the Arabic language alongside English and Bengali, which is the language of his fatherland. Growing up on the East Side, he would often look upon the train cars and the colorful graffiti, which provided a sharp relief from the grey that surrounded the area. Although he’s never done illegal graffiti, the idea of this popular form of street art took hold and he eventually learned to incorporate Islamic calligraphy into his art. Since then, he has incorporated all three of the languages that make up his identity into his artwork. 

Muhammad at People’s Park, located at 2435 Main Street

Early on in his career, Muhammad was inspired by the work of Hassan Massoudy, an Iraqi painter and calligrapher who is attributed to the inspiration of an entire generation of “calligraffiti” artists. In fact, it was Massoudy who inspired Muhammad’s other influence, Tunisian artist el Seed, another calligraffiti artist, to begin his work. Said Muhammad of el Seed, “I was influenced by the artist el Seed and his idea to create unity for people from different backgrounds, ethnicity, and religion. He inspired me at a conceptual level, not only aesthetically. I was astonished by his mural work Perception, painted in Cairo in 2016. It is still my favorite mural of all time.”


This mural (see photo inset), located in Manshiyat Nasr in Cairo, is an incredible sight to behold. It is a circle of interwoven calligraphy painted across over 50 buildings and is only wholly visible from a single vantage point, Muqattam Mountain, where the St. Simon Monastery lies inside a cave. The text in Arabic reads, ‘إن أراد أحد أن یبصر نور الشمس، فإن علیھ أن یمسح عینیھ’ (“Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eye first.”) The mural was a testament to the power of the arts to bring a community together and a message of hope and peace to all of its residents.

Similarly, Muhammad aims to inspire people in the same way with his work. He remarks, “My aim is to inspire people to share the same place and learn from each other in harmony and mutual understanding. I want people from different cultures and different religions to be able to do that and to raise their children in this way. I never talk about my religion in my paintings, I talk about those values most of the religions have in common, such as respect, peace, and mutual help.”

Mr. Zaman’s artworks are complex and leave a different impression on every individual audience member. “The mix of languages that I use and the further artistic elaboration of the composition involving the juxtaposition of different layers of color and words will make the work illegible,” said the artist of his work. “The more the audience finds it difficult to read the words contained, the more they will try to understand their meaning, and this interaction between the work and the audience is what most amazes me. But there are many people that enjoy my art like abstract art, and I’m fine with it. I love that it’s like a private dialog between the painting and each one of the audience.”

“Unity In Diversity”

Muhammad’s works are instantly recognizable and luckily for Western New York, there are a good number of them anywhere you look. In fact, he was the summer artist-in-residence at Artpark in Lewiston where he completed the mural “Unity In Diversity” whose vibrant colors stretch along the South 4th Street entrance to the park. His work can also be found for sale online and at his studio at the Buffalo Art Studio in the Tri Main Center. In 2022, he has two murals scheduled to be completed and one will be at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. He will also be featured at a show at Book Arts in the literary district of downtown Buffalo.

For more information about Muhammad Zaman’s work, you can visit his website:

Lead image: Street Murals @ The BNMC – “Let’s Walk Together”

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