- Associated Press - Sunday, May 28, 2017

PATERSON, N.J. (AP) - When a Newark grammar school acquired a print of one of his paintings for its library, Paterson artist Chris Fabor Muhammad asked himself a question.

“Why not here?”

After all, Muhammad’s heart belongs to his hometown. The 45-year-old had grown up in the city’s Christopher Columbus housing projects in the 1st Ward. He spent much of the past 15 years teaching in Paterson schools. He helped start a group that paints murals at various locations in the city and participates in anti-violence efforts

“This is where I’m from,” he said.

So Muhammad recently approached officials at the Paterson Joint Free Public Library about his artwork and the director, Cindy Czesak, said she is interested.

“He’s a local artist and we like that,” Czesak told The Record (https://njersy.co/2sal21n). “His stuff would be great in our children’s room.”

In particular, Czesak is looking over prints from Muhammad’s “The AmeriKids,” a collection of 15 paintings he said are designed to promote literacy and social justice.

The paintings emphasize reading and knowledge and depict African-American children with books. In one titled, “A Proper Education,” an African-American boy stands atop a stack of books and looks into a mirror, seeing his own face in the image of a pharaoh.

In some of Muhammad’s painting, the message is more politically forceful, such as “Unlearn,” in which a boy with black skin sits reading a book with the title, “What they never taught you in history class.”

Muhammad said he attended Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts in New Brunswick and New Jersey Institute of Technology, where he said he studied architecture.

“But then I realized I have a greater passion to build people than to build buildings,” he said.

Muhammad said he started teaching art at Paterson’s John F. Kennedy High School in 2001. He then moved to International High School and currently is at School 5.

Muhammad was among the art teachers the district laid off during its 2010 budget cuts but eventually was called back to work. During that time, he said, he ran an after-school art program for Paterson children.

Czesak said the library does not have enough money in its regular budget to buy any of Muhammad’s paintings. That covers things like payroll and utilities, she said.

The director said she hopes the Friends of the Paterson Library nonprofit group will be able to pay for at least one of Muhammad’s prints. The first purchase, she said, may spur interest in additional acquisitions.

Muhammad lives in a city where the arts community in the past six years has been beset with infighting, apathy and controversy. One group, the Ivanhoe Mosaic, had been operating out of a mill near the Great Falls, hosting open mike sessions for musicians and art shows.

But the city put an end to the Ivanhoe lease almost two years ago and the building has been dormant since then. Muhammad shrugged off the struggles of the Paterson art community.

“I’m a person who by nature strives on his own,” he said.

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Information from: The Record (Woodland Park, N.J.), https://www.northjersey.com


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