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Pitzer College

Publication Date

Fall 2016

Program Name

Cultural Anthropology, Mental Health, Art, Rehabilitation and Therapy


As mental health issues are usually given low priority in countries of sub-Saharan Africa, including Senegal, mental illness continues to be an emerging topic of discourse (Rand 2015). In Dakar, the practice of art therapy has been used for decades to provide those living with mental illness or going through trauma with a method for selfexpression when words fail to articulate their situations or mental states. Situated within Hôpital Fann’s psychiatric hospital, Clinique Moussa Diop, is an art therapy workshop known as l’Atelier d’EX-PRESSION Artistique1, which provides the space, structure, and material for persons with mental illness to work with the plastic arts. Thus, the purpose of this project is to determine how mental illness is conceptualized and perceived within Senegal, the role that Clinique Moussa Diop’s atelier plays in conceptualizing and perceiving mental illness, the functionality of art therapy within the Senegalese context, and the workshop’s efforts of reintegrating patients into society. Featuring participant observation, interviews, and secondary research, this paper contributes to the emerging discussion of mental illness in Senegal, showing that although there exists a generally negative stigmatization towards persons with mental disability, the art therapy atelier works to redefine the concept of mental illness, integrates culturally relevant aspects within the structure of the workshop in order to improve patient care, and ultimately provides a space conducive to healing the patient and reintegrating them into Senegalese society.


African Languages and Societies | African Studies | Art Therapy | Mental and Social Health | Psychology | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Theatre and Performance Studies


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