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Leave Home Stay in Haiti

  • Date: 7 January 2011
  • Artform: Visual arts
  • Area: South East
Leave Home Stay in Haiti Leave Home Stay in Haiti, Photo courtesy of Christine Finn

On Wednesday 12 January 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the Caribbean island Haiti. An estimated 230,000 people died, 300,000 were injured and 1 million were made homeless, sparking a world-wide humanitarian response to help the affected island. 

In February 2010, Kent freelance journalist and artist Christine Finn travelled to the country to report on the volunteer medical treatment, which she later reported on for the BBC.

Christine says: 'The extraordinary resilience and dignity of Haitians I met in both those locations was humbling and moving. On my return to England with a notebook full of stories of hope and courage, I reported for the BBC's From Our Own Correspondent

When the news agenda swiftly moved on, I looked for other ways to tell those stories, and was inspired to make a photo installation, Leave Home Stay in Haiti.'

Leave Home Stay in Haiti was a three-day art and reportage exhibition in July 2010, exhibiting photographs and film footage taken using her mobile phone from the humanitarian mission in Haiti. The reportage also included a clip from a security film captured remotely on 12 January 2010, and a 35 second loop of images.

The project was supported with a £4,000 Grants for the arts award. 

Christine says: 'Holiday company Firstchoice had launched an appeal asking tourists returning to the UK from the Dominican Republic to donate toiletries for Haiti. I asked if I could follow a batch of donations to Haiti.

'I travelled with the three young medics to the Haiti Hospital Appeal's hospital in Cap Haitien, which was treating paraplegic earthquake victims. I intended to stay simply overnight, but stayed for a week as a volunteer.

'When I travelled south to Port-au-Prince it was in the back of a 4 x 4 ambulance with two patients who were going home, six weeks after the earthquake. I also spent several days shadowing Haven Partnership as they visited tented villages around Port-au-Prince.

'Working at the hospital was moving enough, but being in Port-au-Prince working on shelter really brought home the idea of loss.

I found myself looking at the ways in which people who had lost so much were still marking their identity. With Madam Elizabeth, it was those heels; with other women it was a sense of dignity shown in being house proud, in the middle of all that devastation. I focused mainly on women as men were guarding ruined homes or looking for work.' 

Leave Home Stay in Haiti was exhibited first in her parent's home in Deal, and it built on a four-year body of work centred on the theme of home, which she first explored with site specific installation Leave Home Stay in 2007.

The Leave Home Stay project was inspired when she unexpectedly inherited her family home following the deaths of both her parents, and was supported with a £4,824 Grants for the arts award.

Christine says: 'I was faced with unexpected nostalgia, and an only child dilemma: whether to keep the house, or sell it. The indecision to leave - or stay - inspired a return to art.'

This indecision prompted Christine to do a summer foundation course at the Slade School of Art and two further projects: Lost Property/Mantlepiece (2008), which was supported with a £4,715 Grants for the arts award, and the Moving House (2009), which was supported with a £4,533 Grants for the arts award.

Leave Home Stay in Haiti is her fourth project and again uses her family home to highlight the plight of the Haitians, many of whom lost their own homes, placing enlarged, unframed images of domestic life in Haiti around the house.

The UK show opened with a music benefit in the garden from Deal band Cocos Lovers, a speech from the town mayor and a member of the Haiti Hospital Appeal.

Christine's reportage and travels have gained considerable UK media exposure such as interviews on Radio 4 and articles written for the Sunday Times and the Guardian.

She has since taken the Leave Home Stay in Haiti exhibition to Bristol, where she exhibited it at the Cube Nanoplex, the headquarters for Haiti Kids Kino Project, and in Italy in a monastery in the village of Labro in Lazio, north of Rome, where she was an artist-in-residence at the Art Monastery project.

One year on, Christine's project still holds media interest with the anniversary of the Haitian earthquake on Wednesday 12 January 2011.

As a postscript to the Leave Home Stay project series, the work has inspired a new project about the Italian earthquake city of L'Aquila, and Christine's family home is back on the market.

She says: 'I have wavered over selling as I have no family myself, so this is the end of the line in a sense. I long for a real family to bring it back to life. The house has been good to me, and it deserves it.'