Online exhibition: Picturing a Pandemic
Part 4: Sweet Sugar Rage
Picturing a Pandemic Part 4: Sweet Sugar Rage.
THIS EXHIBITION HAS NOW ENDED
Sweet Sugar Rage is a 1985 documentary by Sistren Theatre Collective, the working class women’s theatre collective founded in Kingston, Jamaica in 1977. In plays, workshops and film Sistren stage the histories and experience of black Caribbean women at the intersection of patriarchal oppression, racism and social class, to promote education, employments rights, unionisation, reproductive rights and decolonisation.
Sweet Sugar Rage exposes the exploitation of women’s labour in Jamaica’s sugar cane fields and shares the themes and methods of Sistren’s workshops and theatre in the context of their wider efforts in education, employment rights and community activism. The film combines the testimony of women that work in the cane fields with evidence of their working conditions and their employers attitudes as the basis of drama workshops that bring rural and urban women into dialogue to analyse the exploitation of working class women’s labour and to challenge the patriarchal attitudes of employers and unions alike. Following the methods of Freire’s ‘conscietization’ and Brecht’s ‘alienation method,’ we see the women collectively take charge of staging and re-staging ways to challenge the systems that oppress them, which offers methodologies of learning together to acquire the feminist and decolonial tools to effect social change.
Sistren Theatre Collective was founded by working class women in the social, cultural and political context of Jamaica’s socialist experiment of the 1970s that followed the first decade of Jamaican independence. The Collective was forged through a government initiative to improve employment skills in Jamaica’s poorest communities. In recent years the emphasis of their activity has shifted from cultural to community work which continues to address the ways that black Caribbean women are impacted by their working and living conditions, systemic racism, poverty and government inaction.
Accompanied Reading: Sistren contributions to Fuse Nov/Dec ‘81 issue. Courtesy of Vtape Resource Centre.
Read an interview with Sistren founders Honor Ford-Smith and Lana Finikin on the origins of the collective, conducted by Conal McStravick in June 2020 here.