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Journals from ACI Baobab Center - Senegal, Africa

2010-12-11 12/1/10 My Art Therapy Volunteer Job in Dakar

 Written 12/1/10

Bonjour mes amies!

It’s hard to believe I haven’t sat down to share about my experience working at l’Atelier d’Expression at Hospital Fann, as it has been such a huge aspect of my life here. As a part of our program at ACI we are required to volunteer with an outside organization in Dakar to expand on our cultural experience. As a psychology major, I wanted, if possible, to work in an area of mental health, and fortunately through several connections I discovered the art therapy studio at the psychiatric clinic, Moussa Diop at Hospital Fann. I was ecstatic to find this opportunity, since I am specifically interested in a career in art therapy. The studio was started and is still overseen by Professor Alhassan Seck, who kindly allowed me to jump right in, head first, and start helping patients with their artwork. I volunteer Monday and Wednesday mornings.

Being in the studio reminds me of home, of all the art spaces I’ve spent time in. The walls are covered in artwork by the patients, art supplies scatter the tables, and paint covers almost every square inch of the space. The atmosphere buzzes with creativity as patients come as they please to work. The artists work in a variety of mediums: paint, pencil, sculpture, multi-media, poetry, music and more. Over time I’ve come to work primarily with one patient and his artwork. He is kind and very creative, but I have to often remind him that the work of art is HIS and not allow him to become too dependent on my artistic skills.

It is fascinating to experience art therapy within the context of Senegalese culture. This past summer I volunteered with the Children’s Healing Art Project, a Portland non-profit that provides art classes to children in the hospital as well as the community. The experience and skills I gained working at CHAP prepared me for the work at Hospital Fann. The setup is roughly the same (art space, materials, and artists), yet the themes in the works of art and the process of making the pieces are unique to Senegalese culture.

For example, the same patient I mentioned before proposed to me one day an idea he had for a new painting. He first showed me a strange contraption that had a spring and what seemed to be a trap. When he realized I had no clue what the thing was, he explained when he was a child he used to use the contraption to catch birds. He wanted to paint a scene of a child in the act of hunting birds. While trying to make art I learned how to catch birds!

I am also continuously amazed at how resourceful the artists can be! One artist in particular works in a multi-media fashion using materials I had never thought of using myself, as someone who also enjoys working with various materials. In the process of recreating an African sculpture on canvas the artist has used straw, sand and even menstruation pads!

I look forward to the rest of my time as a volunteer the studio. It has been a challenging, yet rewarding experience that has reconfirmed my desire to work in the field of art therapy. I am so thankful to be able to learn that while abroad!

Thanks for reading!

Jenna Johnson
 Psychology Major, Art & Francophone Studies Minor

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