Mary Strong

November 14, 1947–June 29, 2018

Mary Strong with her niece, with a body of water at sunset behind them.
Mary Strong with her niece.

Mary Strong, former president of the Society for Visual Anthropology and professor of anthropology at Brooklyn College succumbed to cancer on June 29, 2018. Among her many accomplishments she authored numerous journal articles and books examining the frontier between visual arts and human culture. Her most influential book was Art, Nature, and Religion in the Central Andes: Themes and Variations from Prehistory to the Present (2012), which explores Andean cultural foundations. She also coedited Viewpoints: Visual Anthropologists at Work (2009) with Laena Wilder, a book that drew together a number of experts in this emerging field.

Throughout her career Strong was a valued professor and mentor to thousands of students. As a writer and illustrator, she brought remote cultures to her students and colleagues through her extensive collaborations with painters and craftspeople in Peru, Puerto Rico, rural Pennsylvania, and New York. Most recently, she worked with immigrant youth, teaching them English and assisting them to gain college admission. She was completing five new children’s books on current cultural themes when she died.

For many years Strong worked with an Andean artisan cooperative that produces textiles for European sale. In 2006, Strong and her husband Rafael Domingo were joined by Peter Biella and his student Jennifer Wolowic to make a film about the coop’s creation of alpaca rugs to educate European middlemen about the artisans’ labor and expertise. Biella recalls that although the project met many difficulties, Strong’s goodwill and humor made the filming the most graceful and conflict-free of his career. Textiles in Ayacucho has been screened in many European Product Showcases where it helps assure a fair price for the coop’s alpaca rugs. It was also selected as Best Short Film in the 2007 American Anthropological Association/Society for Visual Anthropology Film and Media Festival.

Strong was born on November 14, 1947 in Washington, DC, and spent her formative years in the Chicago area and South Bend, Indiana. She attended Indiana University and spent a year abroad at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in Lima, Peru, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1970.  Following her graduation she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study immigration issues in Spain. She received a Master’s degree from New York University in 1974 and a PhD from Temple University in 1982. For her dissertation she received a grant from the National Science Foundation to study mural art in urban communities.

In addition to Brooklyn College, Strong was invited as a visiting professor to the University of Puerto Rico, Fordham University, New York University, and Temple University. She was also a special lecturer for the School for Field Studies in Baja California Sur.

Strong will be long remembered by her friends and colleagues as a staunch defender of women’s rights with uncompromising ethics and a loyal friend with a great sense of humor. For those of us who knew her, it has been hard to imagine a world without her supportive presence. As they say in Arabic, Allah yirhamha (may God have compassion for her).

Strong leaves her husband of 40 years, Rafael Domingo, and her siblings, Ann Strong of Berkeley, California, Joan Strong of Meta, Missouri, Julie and Ned Strong of Lexington, Massachusetts, and Anna and Don Strong of St. Louis, Missouri, and numerous nieces and nephews. A fund to promote the arts among Brooklyn’s immigrant youth has been established. Tax deductible contributions can be made to the Mary Strong Fund at Fidelity Charitable Funds c/o Ned Strong, 736 Massachusetts Ave., Lexington, MA 02420. (Najwa Adra, Peter Biella, and Ned Strong)

Cite as: Adra, Najwa, Peter Biella, and Ned Strong. 2018. “Mary Strong.” Anthropology News website, December 10, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1053

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