Alanna Lockward: Journalist and arts curator who championed the underdog

In Europe, she explored problems with culture and imperialism that mirrored her experiences of growing up in the Dominican Republic

Ella Milburn
Wednesday 30 January 2019 21:09
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Lockward went from being a columnist on the Miami Herald to arts advocacy in Berlin
Lockward went from being a columnist on the Miami Herald to arts advocacy in Berlin

Journalist, author and curator Alanna Lockward spent decades attempting to heal the wounds of the fraught, centuries-long relationship between her home country, the Dominican Republic, and its much poorer neighbour, Haiti.

An advocate of the “decolonisation” of culture and a leading ambassador for the Dominican Republic in the arts, Lockward’s work also showed an unshakeable commitment to achieving social justice, informed by her experiences as a black woman and feminist.

Lockward died aged 57, through complications following a fall in Haiti. She had been working with Berlin’s Maxim Gorki Theatre. Her 2016 documentary Allen Report was the first ever Haitian-Dominican film collaboration.

In 2012 she became curator of BE.BOP (Black Europe Body Politics), the first dedicated international programme of screenings and performance centred on black European citizenship at the Ballhaus Naunynstrasse theatre in Berlin.

Trained as a ballet dancer in her youth, she then took to journalism which laid the groundwork for the academically charged works she was renowned for both writing and curating.

In the Nineties, she worked as a reporter at Rumbo magazine, covering cultural, social and political stories from Haiti, the Dominican Republic and South Florida. She also became a columnist for the Miami Herald. In 1998 she became culture editor of Dominican newspaper Listín Diario.

Lockward was born to a middle-class family of intellectuals and artists in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic – her great uncle was the singer and composer Juan Lockward, and her grandfather, George Augustus Lockward Stamers, penned the first history of the Protestant church in the Dominican Republic.

Having trained as a dancer, she studied at the Metropolitan Autonomous University, in Xochimilco, the gritty working-class southern borough of Mexico City famous for its Aztec floating gardens.

In the arts, she was regarded as a mother of the “decolonial aesthetics” movement, pioneering and fostering work in critical race theory and black feminism.

Religion as a tool against oppression fascinated Lockwood 

As director of international affairs at Santo Domingo’s Museum of Modern Art from 1988, she drove the conceptualisation of the institution as a Pan-Caribbean space.

Her master’s thesis on “art in context” researched between 2004 and 2006 at the University of the Arts Berlin, was a review of articles from the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, focusing on the linguistic construction of black identities.

In 1996, Lockward co-founded Art Labour Archives, a cultural agency and platform for political and activist art that organised exhibitions and interdisciplinary events in the Caribbean, the US and Europe. It was under the ALA banner that she would conceptualise and curate BE.BOP Ballhaus Naunynstrasse programme from 2012.

Lockward described the project – originally conceived in Berlin, and brought to Tate Britain last summer – as a “transdisciplinary meeting” bringing together filmmakers and performers from the African diaspora in “a space of translation between our different experiences of colonisation”.

Lockward speaking at an event in Berlin in 2016

Journalists were known to challenge her on what it was that motivated her interest in race politics and culture. In an interview in 2013, she said: “I was born black. My family is visibly black. I came out… a little less black.”

She added: “My blackness has different levels. In Dominican society, I’m not black, because blackness is like a political category, it’s so interconnected with class. But you can’t tell me I’m white. I understand your surprise, but I think it’s an excellent opportunity to explain the difference between what is a political category, and what is basically the result of the media constructing these false identities.”

Lockward paid much attention to fostering Haitian-Dominican relations in her work. Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic and French and French Creole-speaking Haiti share the small Caribbean island of Hispaniola, part of the Greater Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean Sea – and a violent history.

Lockward believed in the cultural interdependence of the two countries, as evidenced in her 2002-2008 exhibition Evens and Odds, and in 2016 she completed the first joint Haitian-Dominican film production ever undertaken. The documentary, Allen Report: Retracing Transnational African Methodism, Lockward’s first, maps the legacy of the first autonomous black church in the US, and its global theological influence, particularly in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, as well as Namibia.

Lockward believed that spirituality and religion were central to freedom struggles from slavery to apartheid and help unify divided peoples, not least those sharing the island of Hispaniola.

She wrote, while fundraising for the film, that it would “contribute to the much needed better understanding between our two nations”.

The film was produced on the low budget of $100,000, receiving the 2013 Fonprocine production award. It was later nominated for the La Silla Awards (2017), and was the first Dominican film invited to the prestigious 24th New York African Film Festival (2017). It was also where Alanna brought her grandfather’s work on the history of the Protestant church in the Dominican Republic into the light once again.

Lockward’s preoccupation with the bordering countries also dominated her literary endeavours. In 2013, her short novel, Marassá and the Nothingness, was inspired by Haitian-Dominican relations and based on 20 years of investigative journalism in Haiti. A recurrent theme in her anthology, A Dominican Haiti: Ghost Tattoos and Bilateral Narratives, was the Haitian migration to its neighbouring state and its policy of deportation.

The former ambassador for Haiti in the Dominican Republic, Edwin Paraison, said, with Lockward’s death, the light had been snuffed out of a star of the Haitian-Dominican solidarity movement.

Lockward is survived by her son, Marlon, her mother, Lina, and siblings Dorothy, Sandy, Jorge José and Mirtha.

Alanna Lockward, journalist, author and curator, born 23 March 1961, died 7 January 2019

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