Women’s Activist Theatre in Jamaica and South Africa: Gender, Race, and Performance Space

Forthcoming 2023. University of Illinois Press. ***Winner of the 2017 National Women’s Studies/University of Illinois Press First Book Prize.

About the Book

Africana/Black people’s experiences are characterized by multiple differences and intersections of race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, class and geographic boundaries. These are affected by the legacies of the middle passage, slavery, colonialism, segregation, apartheid and modern spatial trans/figurations such as gentrification and the marginalization of Black communities .

Considering this history and present, how do Africana people use performance to define and redefine themselves, their communities and nations?

Women’s Activist Theatre in Jamaica and South Africa asserts that theatre is an essential means through which Africana people produce knowledge about how Black identity is forged within and across national spaces, and create decolonial thought, feminisms and womanism.  It is the product of nine years of ethnographic research from 2013 to 2022 on Sistren Theatre Collective and the Letters from the Dead Project in Jamaica, and The Mothertongue Project and Olive Tree Theatre in South Africa, with a focus on four performance events that they staged from 2009 to 2015. These performances were conceived as social justice projects and took place as site-specific performances in public spaces and theatre in marginalized Black-majority communities. They covered a range of issues,  including sexual and other forms of violence, reproductive injustice, memorialization and healing, gender equity in the theatre industry, and the spatial manifestations of racial, gender and economic oppression. The book situates these performances within a trajectory of women-led social justice movements established globally from the early 2000s to the present.

In sum, Women’s Activist Theatre in Jamaica and South Africa contributes to the transnational scholarship on Black/Africana people’s art and activism by focusing on the key pedagogic roles played by theatre events, organizations and projects.

Watch Nicosia Shakes speak about her research, with reference to Sistren Theatre Collective, Jamaica and The Mothertongue Project, South Africa here.
Nicosia Shakes with members of the Hannah Town Cultural Group, creators and performers of “A Slice of Reality”in Hannah Town, Kingston, Jamaica, June 2015. (c) Nicosia Shakes

Other photos from top: Isiko Lam, written and directed by Pamella Nketke, at the Olive Tree Women’s Theatre Festival, 2015| Song for the Beloved, an exhibition and performance from the Letters from the Dead Project (curated by Honor Ford-Smith, Anique J. Jordan, Kara Springer), Kingston, Jamaica 2015 Copyright Nicosia Shakes| Sistren Theatre Collective in rehearsal, circa 1980 Copyright Sistren.