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Art Therapy a Creative Solution for Senegalese Patients


As in other parts of the world, doctors in Africa are coming to understand the value of art therapy for psychiatric patients. For the last two years, patients with mental difficulties have been taking part in Senegal's first art therapy program, resulting in exhibitions around the country.

In a small outdoor workspace at the back of Dakar's principal hospital, a small group of people sit quietly painting at trestle tables.

Beside them, washing brushes and helping the artists to apply colors to their colorful creations, is Jacob Okbus, a Dakar-based Nigerian artist who volunteers at the hospitals psychiatry unit.

"I work here every Tuesday, at Dakar principal hospital, with the sick patients, the psychiatry patients. I find that each time I come and work with them, they love painting, it makes them easily forget their problems and they enjoy doing the painting," he said.

This art therapy program is the brainchild of Eric Cao, one of the psychiatry unit's doctors. The program involves some of Dakar's best artists, working alongside people with mental difficulties.

He says they were looking for something which would be at the same time therapeutic as well as occupy the patients. He wanted to propose activities to the patients which would also be a form of treatment.

Calling on the city's French cultural center, Dr. Cao was put in touch with Moussa Sakho, one of Senegal's most successful artists who had previously done art workshops with children.

Sakho then gathered a group of artists so that the workshops could be run every afternoon by a different artist.

The painter found that many of the patients who came to his workshops were producing exceptional pieces of work, good enough to exhibit in Dakar's 2006 bi-ennial art exhibition.

He says that in the world of art, there is always hidden talent. He says he finds many talented artists and that for him, art is just a skillful way of doing something and that these people are very skilled. He says he sees young artists of a really high level and that that inspires him.

All the pieces of work produced in the workshops are for sale. The proceeds go towards buying art materials and medicine for patients who do not have the money themselves.

Dr. Cao says there are medical as well as social benefits in offering the patients an alternative to purely pharmaceutical treatment.

He says that some of the patients are completely cured, and that even if some are not cured, they can get some artistic pleasure from the therapy. He says that also, some of the patients will produce a work of art and people will see it and it can change the patients status in society.

Michel, a Senegalese man who studied in the United States, says he has problems with his nerves. He has just had his first experience of painting, helped by some of the programs longer-term members.

"I intend to come back next week, and I hope that I'll be more focused next week and Ill take on further painting and I think that painting will help me be able to adjust my problems," he said.

Sakho, the artist helping with the program, has applied for funding to build a new workshop space away from the hospital so that former patients can carry on with their artwork without having to return to the hospital.

He says that this will help them to feel more confident and carry on producing their exceptional pieces of art.