Christina and Tanya Awad started the ‘Blank Canvas’ initiative as a collaboration for music, poetry, painting and food lovers. Since it’s inception, their passion project has won many accolades and appreciation. In 2017, they were speakers at a TEDx Talk in Fujairah. In 2018 and 2019, they have received nominations at the Pride of Abu Dhabi Awards for Best Contribution to the Arts category.
Tempo had caught up with the sisters earlier to talk about their passion project.
Christina: “I am a creative soul, an Innovative Spatial Designer by trade and I use design as a tool to create meaningful experiences within urban environments. Our story may be familiar to you. From everywhere and nowhere, our ‘third culture kid’ syndrome has always left us questioning this feeling of ‘sense of belonging’ and why it’s so important. Of Palestinian/Lebanese origins, and no particular place to call ‘home’, we are sisters who find home in people and expression.
Tanya: “I am a sustainability and events coordinator by trade, and I believe in humanity and nature thriving harmoniously. It has been a long journey across continents, from France (inception) to Australia (implementation) to the UAE (action). It all started with a simple little game to kill time on a long nine hour drive across France. We decided to share a notebook and draw on the same page and fell in love with the idea of shared ownership of art and the patience one had to have for accepting what they did not understand. When my sister passed the notebook to me the first time, I looked at it and two things came to mind- how can I make sense of this drawing and why would I want to spoil it? I couldn’t answer either, and it was from then that we realised that collaborative art was about much more than creating something beautiful, it was even much more than art itself. It was a process of acceptance and unlearning that we had to go through before we let it all go and allowed our imagination to create.
The Birth of a Social Project
Christina: We returned to our home in Melbourne, Australia and shared the game with our housemates, who we at the time were trying to start up a community art organisation with. After 13 of us had a go drawing on one page, and had a blast doing it, we decided to launch an event called ‘Blank Canvas,’ we covered all the walls of our warehouse in canvas, contacted our community’s musicians and poets and had our wonderful chef housemate cook up a feast, and watched the night unfold. It was a beautiful collaboration of music, poetry, painting and food.
We witnessed professional artists, amateurs and people from all walks of life mingling, exchanging and empowering each other to create; to express. Something happened that night, it felt like something was being built, we were creating a world that was safe for each of us to express ourselves through art and rhythm, and that resulted in a collective expression that was so powerful. It was then that we imagined that Blank Canvas can become a portal for creative freedom for communities around the world. The event was such a success that we held one shortly after.
Tanya: Little did we know that months later, we were packing up our lives in Australia to revisit our birthplace, Abu Dhabi; bittersweet indeed, but life throws things at us sometimes and it’s up to us to either catch them or miss them – we went for the first option. We must say, it has been a privilege to be in Abu Dhabi and watch Blank Canvas receive such a warm welcome, we feel it’s a good time to be here. We’ve been holding events in Abu Dhabi for almost two years now and are so excited to witness a growing creative community in the UAE.
Amplifying the Healing Power of Art
Christina: What we want to share is nothing revolutionary. We want to nurture community by directing our focus towards the environment, local talents and skills, initiatives and businesses. We try to achieve this through art as we believe it helps us dig deep into our conscience and find what is important.
Tanya: There are too many people in the world who feel lonely, misunderstood and marginalized. This leads people to distract themselves and fall into a vicious cycle of materialism and self loathing. We don’t claim to know how to eliminate all suffering in the world, but we do believe that expression through art can serve as a great tool to simply feel enough, to feel like we are part of something bigger and to get us to work- meaningful work!
Simply, we believe that we are responsible for one another and through collaborative art, not only do we learn how to communicate with strangers, irrespective of language, we also learn how to embrace and help each other grow. We find our strengths through each other and through our strengths, we learn compassion- a vital ingredient of this existence that ensures our happiness and self fulfillment!
Christina: Creative heads are connecting and the arts scene is definitely growing. There are opportunities to connect these people and provide space for them to express themselves. You will create so many things that you don’t like, that you are ashamed of. One day, you might wake up and look back at it and think, ‘Hey, that was pretty awesome actually,’ you might also wake up and think ‘That was a disaster.’ but you know what? You’ll probably laugh at either one of those outcomes – what is hard to live with is the ‘Why didn’t I even try?’
Tanya: We are always expected to deliver perfection, when the truth is perfection itself is subjective. No one can ever see the world through your eyes, why not try to show the world what beauty looks like to you? Art, in all its forms, can help you do this. It can also reveal things to you about yourself that you never noticed. Just accept that there are things you are great at and things you aren’t, this also proves why we need community! We all have different strengths and if only we could embrace each other’s skills, we can truly thrive as a collective!