Linda Marie Rodriguez was a scholar of all things Cuban.
Her attributes as a scholar are best represented in her main art historical project developed around José Antonio Aponte, a free black painter, born in Havana around 1760, who created a now-lost book of paintings full of historical and mythical black characters. Her dissertation, supported by the Social Science Research Council International Dissertation Research Fellowship, was her first approach to this man’s work who allegedly inspired an antislavery revolt. Because the infamous album no longer exists, Linda was forced to creatively engage in the intricacies of description and memory, shaping a tale of cultural resistance through artistic practice prior to the foundation of Havana’s Academia de San Alejandro. After receiving her Ph.D. in 2012 at Harvard University, Linda revamped her research into a website and a traveling exhibition that she created in collaboration with colleagues and contemporary artists. In such transformation, that brought past and present together, it became evident her old need for more than great ideas, and her constant interest to contribute to society in many other ways. Her savviness in the digital humanities allowed her, for instance, to engage most recently in the relevant Separados/ Torn Apart project that visualizes the geography and finances of the “zero tolerance” immigration policy developed by ICE.
Cuba first became a passion during Linda’s college years at Barnard, when she fell in love with Cuban Salsa. Seeing such a brilliant mind and engaged soul move the way she did on the dance floor was a visual spectacle hard to forget. She tried hard to teach us all her magic moves during the classes she organized at Ryles in Cambridge’s Inman Square. But our bodies were never as fast or gracious as hers. She was certainly more successful in leading younger generations in the discovery of Cuba’s history and its African roots first as the Resident Director of the Harvard College Program in Cuba, and then later as the Senior Fellow for the Cuban Studies Program at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. Her familiarity with Havana’s buildings and traditions made her a most suitable member of Friends of Havana, an organization that partnered with the World Monuments Fund to organize the forum Hablemos de La Habana (Let’s Talk about Havana), a collaborative discussion about the city’s future.
More than a sharp intellect, however, Linda was mainly a generous and always curious human being, a truly great friend who valued and cared for others (as Minu, Sanjay, CJ, and others can attest. She constantly connected people that she thought could share common interests, brightening many existences with her honest laugh. She adored life and fought for hers as the warrior she learned to be from her mother and her grandma. She passed away at her home in San Antonio on October 1, 2018, at an age when the seeds of her academic work were just starting to blossom, but managed to leave a legacy that is worth celebrating and promoting.
Thomas B. F. Cummins
Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Pre-Columbian and Colonial Art
Pre-Columbian and Latin American Art
Rosario I. Granados, Ph. D.
Carl & Marilynn Thoma Associate Curator of Spanish Colonial Art
Blanton Museum of Art/The University of Texas at Austin