Murray Forbes—Painter, Author, Historian and Ambassador to the Arts in Central Europe, Russia, and Scotland
By Lee Daniels
“Culture and art are able to unite even when politics divide,”
“All passes;” wrote French poet Pierre Jules Théophile Gautier in his 1852 poem, L’Art, “art alone, enduring, stays to us; the bust outlasts the throne, the coin, Tiberius.
Gautier died in 1872 and so did not live to witness the succession of totalitarian regimes which swept Central Europe and Russia in the early 20th century, severely impacting artistic expression.
The demise of communist rule in eastern and central Europe in 1989, however, led to a resurgence in public appreciation and expression of art.
One visionary who visited central Europe a decade and a half earlier, became convinced not only that art had never really died in the region, but that suppression had dramatically failed. He believed its form was evolving faster than in traditional bastions of culture in Western European capitals.
In 1972, while he was completing his M.F.A. in Painting, Art History and Italian in Florence, Murray Forbes traveled to Poland, where he was very impressed with what he saw.
The following year, after graduating from the Schifanoia Graduate School of Fine Arts, Forbes applied for a post-graduate fellowship to study painting, art history and Polish at the Krakow Academy of Fine Art. Though his grant was rejected at first, he went to Poland nonetheless, persevered, was largely reinstated and won a second scholarship the following year.
And that, as the expression goes, was history for Forbes. Since then, while pursuing his career as a painter, exhibiting in Boston and on television, he has dedicated himself to helping promote art and culture through 20th-century photography of countries like Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, Lithuania, and Scotland, which often have important historical ties as well as recent connections in the 20th century. In the ensuing years, these countries, including Scotland, have witnessed first-hand the sea change that has taken place not only in art and culture in the region, but in society.
“By 1980, I was rather saddened and surprised that people in the U.S. apparently knew so little of Polish, Czech, and Slovakian culture, so I decided to go back and see if I could bring back a large clump of visual, cultural, and historical reality in photographic form. I spent the entire last decade and beyond seeking to increase awareness of the region and its peoples,” said Forbes in a recent interview.
Three years later, Forbes formed the Navigator Foundation, with the goal of collecting, exhibiting and publishing 20th-century Central European, Baltic, Russian and Scottish photography.
His intent in founding Navigator was to bring a substantial and impactful cross-section of notable achievements by artists and photographers in the above regions to the West’s attention, in hopes that this would help create greater solidarity, synergy, and social awareness among nations and individuals of different cultures.
“These places in the past 100 years have seen terrible turmoil. What a horrific century—the suffering, the absolute disruption of normal life—it’s beyond the imagination. And yet artists, playwrights, composers have been continuously coming forth to document this,” said Forbes.
In 1987, through the Navigator Foundation, Forbes brought Poles and Israelis together at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, in a major exhibition of Polish photography dealing with the Jewish dimension of Polish life over the past six decades.
Since then, the Navigator Foundation has exhibited extensively abroad, including in France, Russia, Monaco, and England, and at The Boston Athenaeum, Boston Public Library, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, M.I.T Museum, Fitchburg Art Museum, the Massachusetts State House, Boston City Hall, and Middlebury College Museum of Art.
“Culture and art are able to unite even when politics divide,” explained Forbes.
Navigator’s next initiative will offer a lecture on Gov. James and Gen. John Sullivan, and Irish contributions to the American Revolution and early republic, to be held at The Society of the Four Arts, Palm Beach, on April 3, 2017.
In the meantime, Navigator is currently seeking to donate a plaque to the Massachusetts State House honoring Gov. James and John Sullivan, as well as Irish involvement in the revolution and early republic.
The author would like to express his appreciation for and gratitude to the Westchester Guardian and its publisher, Sam Zherka, for giving him the opportunity to contribute as Arts writer over the past eight years, and in doing so, help keep appreciation for art and culture alive.
Lee Daniels, a former reporter for the Journal News and Reuters, is Arts writer for the Westchester Guardian. His work has appeared in the Danbury News-Times, Litchfield County Times, and Orlando Sentinel. He is the winner of the first-place prize in Non-Fiction in the 2013 Porter Fleming Literary Competition, author of a new book, Poems from the Edge (New Freedom, PA: Eber & Wein Publishers, 2016), and an M.F.A. candidate at the School of Letters of the University of the South.