Meet Me and My Sister
My name is Tanya Awad. My sister Christina and I grew up between the U.A.E and Australia. We started Blank Canvas in Australia with 11 others, a platform for Self Expression & Community Building.We both studied in Perth. I gained a degree in sustainable development and international aid, whilst Christina has a bachelor in product and furniture design, later continuing her studies in Interior Design…
We were living with an artist community called ‘Exit strategy studios’ in Melbourne. This coop supported the art community by hosting exhibitions and workshops. It was a multi-use warehouse community, and we loved being a part of it.
During a holiday in France, we were on a long drive and so we took to our journals and started sketching. At one point we looked at each other and shared the same page, creating an impromptu game called ‘Thoughtless Drawing’. When one of us got stuck we would pass it onto the other. We sketched in this way throughout the entire drive, until we created a unified art piece. This formless form, interpreting what each of us created, was a beautiful experience.
When we returned to Melbourne we shared this concept with our Art community in Melbourne and they loved it. We created an event out of it and it became successful. We had canvases all over the warehouse. Artists, singers and poets came to express themselves.
Now that Blank Canvas has made the UAE its home, our brand has evolved.
When we brought BC to Abu Dhabi in 2016, we felt guiding people with themes and topics was more suited to this community. Nowadays, our philosophy is to focus on the action of releasing expression (journey), rather than the outcome (destination). In Australia creative freedom is more intuitive and here in Abu Dhabi we find things are better when curated, focused, themed and networked with more organisations. Adapting to our environment meant that we had to mold it to fit into this society.
Palestine Permeates Our Art
Our every breath is in honour of Palestine. Both of us want to serve Palestinian society through empowerment, Communal Art and various methods of community building. Palestine is the foundation of everything we do. It is in the root of our mission, to build our organisation to serve Palestine. We hope to go to Palestine soon to work with people in the camps for peace-through-art workshops. The core of our initiative is community-based. The recognition of each other’s strengths and freedom of creative expression is vital. This idea stems from the belief that this is what Palestine needs right now and as Palestinians, this is the least we can do. We see ourselves organizing workshops that focus on community, peace and positive communication through natural building, permaculture and collaborative painting. We also want to help children in the camps express themselves through art and provide healing tools for them. Palestine permeates our values and mission as Blank Canvas; our aim is serve the Palestinian community using our tools for healing and empowerment.
We are adept at a mix media approach by using paint, markers and up-cycled magazines to create collages. However, the success of our operation also lies in the marketing. Social media is not enough. We have a Facebook/Instagram page, but often people RSVP but don’t show up for events. We must be persistent and constantly remind our community to keep its word over here. We never faced an issue like that in Australia. If someone tells you they were going to make it, they would. Their word was their word, and they kept it.
Community Building Through Art
We don’t focus on problems, we ask people questions and its up to them what they express so through that process they can identify the challenge, using art as a medium of expression. We want people to focus on self-reflection. Fundamentally we give people space to reflect, build together and exchange in order to expand outwards and build community.
We both have full time jobs whilst being committed to seeing Blank Canvas grow and help sustain it. We use art as a tool but eventually we will adopt different tools to help foster a co-op community, such as natural building. We see potential in Blank Canvas being able to operate on its own, even during downturns, but giving it all our time is not possible for now. We will gradually transition into making this a full time endeavor. Our agenda is busy. We hold team-building workshops for private and public organizations, are starting our products line (items made out of painted canvas) and hosting independent events – this is all while having full time jobs!
Additional Artistic Experiences…
I’m into art therapy, transformative art coaching, writing a book about perceptions behind everyday living and following your bliss, pursuing fine art and jewellery making. I have been keeping journals since I was 19, and will continue to document my life, feelings, ideas and sketches through journals.
I want to continue pursuing music, writing a book, gaining more skills for effective community development that also involves engagement in social issues. I want to understand how a community can sustain itself and thrive with the methods we promote.
Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Tanya knew that Palestine was her symbolic homeland. Always curious about her identity and connecting with her roots, she was eager to strengthen her ties to the Levant and traveled the region, desperate to learn more. It wasn’t until her first trip to Palestine that she became spiritually and emotionally connected.
She studied Political Science and Sociology at the University of Toronto. She then moved to the UAE, supporting numerous NGOs related to children’s welfare in the region. When she had her own family, she created the My Olive Roots platform in the hopes that her children and the Arabs diaspora would have a place to connect, learn and preserve their roots. Tanya enjoys discovering humanist stories and exploring the connection of food and art with culture.