This alumna paints a broader picture of Haitian history and culture

Marlene Daut Discussion

This alumna paints a broader picture of Haitian history and culture

Portrait of Laurena Finéus sitting next to one of her paintings

Photo credit: François Mittins

An only child raised by her mother and grandmother in Gatineau, Quebec, Laurena Finéus grew up listening to stories about her grandmother, who left Haiti for Canada in the 1970s to build a life for her family. This meant leaving her children with relatives until she had the means to send for them.

Laurena’s grandmother had been hired by a Canadian family to work as a nanny and she was sending money home to Haiti so that Laurena’s seven aunts and uncles could immigrate north. Knowing this, Laurena developed feelings of deep gratitude toward her relatives and a strong sense of responsibility to make something of herself. So, when she decided to enrol in uOttawa’s fine arts program, Laurena was nervous about telling them.

“I really didn't want to worry them or disappoint them, because they worked really hard so that I could be where I am,” she says. “The arts speak to me most of all and have ever since I was little. But I realize that it’s a difficult career path, especially for a woman of colour. When I started university, I already had it in mind that I was going to work three times harder because my grandmother is already 90 years old, and I really wanted her to see the fruit of my labour.”

Painting of Laurena's family

Famille, acrylic on canvas, 2017

It turned out that her mother and grandmother were both very supportive of her choice, and in early March 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Laurena had her first solo exhibit at uOttawa’s Gallery 115, one she thoroughly documented so that her grandmother, who is no longer very mobile, could experience it too.

“I really poured my heart and soul into this exhibition,” she says. “The vernissage was a really memorable evening for me as an artist because it helped me see that this is in fact where I feel most comfortable and most accomplished.”

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