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"Insectual - The Secret of the Black Butterfly", by Barbara Sala

11 avril 2015

par Élaine Audet

I discovered the painter Barbara Sala about 12 years ago in the Musée International d’Art Naïf de Magog in Quebec which has a few of her paintings in its collection. Dazzled by her colors and marvelous Chagallian phantasy, I decided to meet her. At that time, I have read her first children’s book Celestine and the Magical Geranium, illustrated by herself, that I praised in my article (1).

At our first meeting, this very intense woman told me about her diary of psychotherapy which she had undergone 20 years earlier. Her life is a kind of obstacle race ; a descent into the hell of incest, profoundly forgotten in her conscious mind since her German childhood during WWII.

INSECTUAL - The Secret of the Black Butterfly, published in 2015, is illustrated with 75 drawings by the author. Extremely well written, this passionate journey through the narrow tunnel of blocked memory oscillates between the spiritual quest and the psychological thriller. Her heroïne Maya’s life is anything but trivial. From Nazi Germany to the civil war in the ex-Belgian Congo, where she worked for the United Nations in the ’60s, until her arrival in Montreal in 1974 she lived a perpetual adventure and married a handsome Italian with whom she had a boy and a girl. As I would do for a thriller, I will not reveal here the details of her difficult journey through her past ; since the author herself was careful to keep the suspense until the end.

Those who are interested in the process of psychotherapy will learn a great deal as much about the blessings as about the risks of entrusting the direction of one’s life to another person to challenge the painful secrets of the unconscious - even if that person is a member of the Order of Psychiatrists. In a fluid and colorful language, always with a truly authentic voice, Barbara Sala knows how to capture the reader’s interest for her heroine’s struggle to regain her sexuality and her personal autonomy. Over a period of 30 years, she has imposed on herself this real quest for truth. Her growing commitment to the visual arts and writing - parallel to her therapy - favors the recovery of her independence, often put aside in the name of a harmonious family life and the safeguarding of her marriage.

The journey of this courageous septuagenarian shows the depth of the wounds left by incest ; this absolute patriarchal power imposed upon her heroïne Maya in childhood and from which it is almost impossible to entirely liberate oneself. The guilt incrusted in her and the fear of getting rejected or abandoned trap her unconsciously into seduction with the illusory power that she seems to get momentarily over men ; a seduction that her predator had already cynically imposed on her during her adolescence in the name of love.

The means to overcome her daemon

Along the way, we learn that the displacement of a simple “s” and a simple “c” in the words “insect” and “incest” tragically illustrates the hidden plot in her life. “In my mind, I was always searching for the lost link of understanding which would perhaps mean the release of the “devil””. (page 70) ; This elusive daemon, this “Black Butterfly” named in one chapter “Lord Phallus.” (page 174)

In Maya’s difficult psychological journey writing a diary is of prime importance. She writes : “I want my diary to represent the absolute truth, to record as closely as possible what was said, even if it is shameful, embarrassing, unspeakable.” (page 152) While remaining true to this principle and letting her imagination flow freely (in her art), she reaches another level of consciousness thus allowing all hope to flourish.

Born in 1937 in Darmstadt, Germany, Barbara Sala grew up in the Bavarian Alps. After having lived in Switzerland, England, Thailand, Congo (Zaire), Dominican Republic and Guyana, she emigrated to Canada in 1974 and settled in Montreal. Since 1987, she participated in more than 50 group exhibitions and 10 solo exhibitions in Quebec, the United States, France, Switzerland and Tunisia. She obtained three prizes in Quebec.

1. Élaine Audet, Place au conte : Célestine et le géranium magique,, 21 décembre 2009.

Barbara Sala, Insectual - The Secret of the Black Butterfly, BookLocker, 2015.

The book is available here .

Barbara Sala’s website.

Original French version

English translation : Barbara Sala and Élaine Audet.

Online April 10 2015

Élaine Audet

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