When talking about theatre in Cuba and the African influence on the Cuban stage, we have to talk about Fátima Patterson, a woman in whom African blood and Caribbean traditions run through her veins and are reflected in her art, which she has been passionate about and to which she has given her life: the theatre.
Every February 6, her birthday, is an occasion to recognize the great actress, the tireless creator, nourished by theatre as a young woman, to eventually become a theatre godmother, a guide to generations of artists, and an indispensable figure of contemporary Cuban theatre.
From a young age she was passionate about the art of the stage and in 1970 she started working on television and radio as an actress, and later as a programme director, until she joined the Conjunto Dramático de Oriente, which became the Santiago Cabildo theatre Company, where she found a home, a living space, for the creation and dialogue between actors, in the collective search for theatre venues in Santiago de Cuba.
A short time later, she founded the Macubá collective in 1992, and she actively remains at the helm of that group. She has stood out due to her approach of researching and confronting experiences through theatre; as well as working with components inherent to folklore, using the Patakines, the oral traditions of Palo Monte religious practice and Caribbean poetry.
Macubá has been a vital space for Fátima Paterson, a home, a laboratory for research and reflection of Afro-Cuban traditions on the Cuban stage. From that, her creative space, she has established a school, a space for the development of new faces in Cuban theatre with a consolidated aesthetic.
Fátima Patterson brings a rootsy and essentially Cuban authenticity to each performance. Born into a black working class family in the mythical Santiago neighbourhood of Los Hoyos, she is the founder of a company that has made Santiago theatre the mainstay of Cuban theatre.
Fatima is guide and leader par excellence. She is the founder of the Afro-Descendant Regional Articulation (ARAAC)* and the director, since 1997, of the International Biennial festival of Orality (Spoken word/storytelling) in Cuba. She is also an oral narrator of Afro-Cuban culture, a source of pride for her hometown, as she herself says, “Santiago de Cuba is the city of words and the source of all narration is to nourish oneself with others and with one’s own roots”.
At 70 [in 2021], Fatima Patterson well deserves to be a pride of Cuban theatre and culture in general, who continues to live her life rooted in her principles in defending the cultural values of her nation.
*With the creation of ARAAC, the Afro-descendant Regional Articulation for Latin America and the Caribbean in September 2012, Cuba joined the regional and world struggle to confront social inequalities associated with racial discrimination with social projects in favour of racial equality.
‘Fatima Patterson, race, gender and theatre’, is a 43 minute documentary, with english subtitles, by US filmmaker Juanamaría Cordones-Cook and presents the personal and artistic journey of Fátima de la Caridad Patterson (Santiago de Cuba 1951), storyteller, actor, theatre director, and playwright, and winner of the Premio Nacional de Teatro 2017, the highest theatre award in Cuba.
Founder of the Macubá theatre group in Santiago de Cuba, Fátima combats disremembering. She addresses issues of race, gender, and popular religion, through theatre and oral history, a genre she masterly practices and incorporates in her artistic work. In a combination of performances, rhythms, and dances, this documentary presents the origin and development of this charismatic artist who with a strong sense of belonging brings to her creations her personal experience intertwined with traditions and components of the ancestral African heritage.
The film is enriched by comments of leading Cuban intellectuals, Alberto Lescay Merencio, Enrique Bonne, Vivian Martínez Tabares, Georgina Herrera, Orlando Vergés, and Marino Wilson Jay, complemented by images of Santiago with music by José Aquiles Virelles Rodríguez and the Conga de los Hoyos.
You can watch the trailer with subtitles here