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Watching trains go by, artist Muhammad Zaman brightens Buffalo’s East Side

Nick Lippa

There’s a new mural on Buffalo’s East Side at 1131 Broadway. It was unveiled to the public Tuesday as part of the Albright-Knox’s Public Art Initiative. While several of the artists brought in for the initiative have been from outside the region, this mural was painted by someone who grew up in the same neighborhood.

Driving down Broadway, about a quarter mile away from the Endeavor Health Services building, on its side you will see layers of calligraphic forms. Lush colors pop out from its black background. Three languages are present.

Arabic—the language of Zaman’s religion.

Bengali—the language of the Zaman’s birthplace, Bangladesh.

And English—the language spoken where Zaman has lived for about a decade and a half.

Muhammad Zaman painted this mural titled “Our Colors Make Us Beautiful”.  He said it represents all the different faces that make up the area.

“We have people who are from Poland, people who are from Italy, people who are from Bangladesh, Burma, Pakistan, India,” Zaman said, “so we have a huge different groups of people (who) came together in this part of the neighborhood.”

Zaman went to an Islamic school on Best Street before he ever thought about art as a profession.

“Maybe about four to five years back, I started doing art very seriously and started using acrylic and just kind of started mixing things,” he said. “I’m self-taught, so I had to do a lot of experiments and from there slowly, slowly, it took off and here we are.”

The first thing you’ll notice about Zaman is he’s very humble… and a little shy.

“We loved the art and we found him hiding in the back room,” said Tony Diina, who owns the building the new mural occupies.

He originally met Zaman in a mosque at a community art show.

“He came out and we met him and since then, his work has been well-received from around the world. We’re thrilled to have met him and to collect his work and to bring him here to do the mural on the building.”

Diina was the first person who bought a serious artwork from Zaman.

“Him and his wife, they gave me a lot of encouragement and a lot of help—as in where to go, who to talk to, how to learn things,“ said Zaman.

Diina calls this project a convergence of ideas happening at one time.

“We knew Muhammad the artist. We had a building. I joked with him at one time. I said maybe I’ll have you paint a mural on the side of my building. And he laughed. He didn’t even know I owned a building,” Diina laughed. “From that point on Albright had started its public art initiative and I made Albright aware that we were happy to collaborate. Muhammad is the artist. He would have painted a different building. So luckily, the planets aligned properly. We have an artist, we have a building, we have a public arts sponsor in Albright-Knox. We helped with some of the prep work and it worked out beautifully.”

Credit Nick Lippa / WBFO
Mural "Our Colors Make Us Beautiful" at 1131 Broadway by artist Muhammad Zaman

The Public Art Initiative has been partnered with Erie County since 2013. Albright-Knox Public Art Project Coordinator Eric Jones said this mural is a sign the resurgence of Buffalo isn’t just in one area of the city.

“It really deserves to be spread across the entire city and across all of Erie County,” said Jones. “For something like this, to be one of another of projects to pop up where you’d least expect them to be seen, for us is of the upmost importance.”

Jones said little by little, it’s become easier to find community partners.

“When we first started doing murals and public works of art, we had a hard time saying trust us, we are going to do a good job,” he said. "There really wasn’t much to back that up. Now we’re seeing the evidence of those efforts so it makes it a lot easier when we have people that do just come up to us when we’re on a lift and they’re hanging out and they’re just like, hey I’ve got a building and I’ve got a wall.”

Earlier this month, internationally renowned mural artist Louise Jones completed “Wildflowers for Buffalo” at 465 Washington Street.

Credit Nick Lippa / WBFO
Earlier this month, internationally renowned mural artist Louise Jones completed “Wildflowers for Buffalo” at 465 Washington Street.

She was put in contact with a local art crew who provided some help. Jones said these projects can turn in to perfect networking opportunities.

“The art world is only so big,” he said, “so when you have someone who is nationally or internationally recognized to come in, develop those relationships, it’s only going to help them out in the long run as they pursue their dream and their passions.”

Zaman helped with Betsy Casañas mural last year on 585 Niagara Street.

“It’s definitely good to have that experience,” said Zaman. “People, when they want to trust you or want to give you their wall to paint, they would like to have some type of comfort that this person will be able to do it. (That) he has done it before in some capacity.”

Painting the side of the building isn’t a foreign concept for Zaman, who is an admirer of graffiti art. Head five to seven minutes east from Endeavor Health on Broadway and you’ll find one of his favorite places to view art.

“If you stand there, it’s an open air museum… or a graffiti gallery,” said Zaman. “There’s new trains coming. In and going. Every one of them is filled with colors. It’s really inspiring because the whole area itself is very grey, very dead. Nobody’s there. If you are there to look for those colors, they are actually there. You just have to pay attention and look at them.”

Zaman calls it a tremendous honor to paint in his own community.

“I assumed someday, years later, I’d be able to do a mural. But I never really imagined I’d be able to do it in a place where I actually grew up,” he said. “With the Albright-Knox, a museum where I went to and still go to, to compare my work to the work that’s there on the wall... it's huge for me.”

Born in Bangladesh. Self-taught student in America. Resident of Buffalo’s East Side. Now, Zaman’s name is painted for all to see on a mural in his own neighborhood, as you drive down Broadway.

Credit Nick Lippa / WBFO
Mural is located next to the corner of Broadway and Warren

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.
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