These sisters are using artistic freedom to encourage you to look at life from a new perspective and let your creativity do the talking.
“That’s where we get our news, we do the majority of our communicating and connecting with other people. That’s why events like ours are so important to encourage people to engage with others and re-connect with themselves and the world around them.”
Out to foster creativity and encourage people to see things from a new perspective, Blank Canvas Community, created and run by Christina and her sister Tanya, has set out to create a community through art.
Established in Abu Dhabi in 2015, after launching in Melbourne a year earlier, the community art organisation brings people from a wide range of backgrounds together to contribute to a collaborative art piece, expand their boundaries and explore creative freedom.
While creativity and self-expression have always been something close to Tanya and Christina’s hearts, pursuing a career in art was never something that the pair considered when growing up.
“We were always encouraged to be creative, I think,” says Christina. “Our mum always put us into art classes and things like that. I always wanted to do art but it’s hard to pursue that as a career and manage to pay bills and forge a living being creative. So art and sketching was something I did for myself in my spare time and enjoyed.”
That’s certainly Tanya’s recollection: “Christina was born with a pen in her hand,” Tanya laughs. “She’s been drawing for as long as I can remember. We did grow up in a creative household and that was a big part of our lives growing up.
“To be honest, I didn’t draw my entire life. I enjoy writing, playing music and I’m very passionate about community development and humanitarian causes.
“I think we really feed off of each other and always have. Christina has been my source of confidence when it comes to art. I used to pause when I was creating and Christina was the person pushing me to carry on.
“Inspiring each other has always been a part of our lives and now we get to share that enthusiasm with other people and push them to make something.”
Helping inspire others to be creative and explore their artistic abilities, the sisters staged their first Blank Canvas Community event back in 2015, collaborating with indie-music showcase Metronome, hosted by creative collective White Cube Studios.
The event, Metronome meets Blank Canvas, turned out to be a significant milestone for everyone involved as White Cube Studios and Metronome closed down shortly after and Blank Canvas Community blossomed from the ashes, launching its own regular communal meet-ups.
“Our first event in Abu Dhabi was really special and also interesting because as it turned out it was the last ever Metronome event and the first Blank Canvas event,” Tanya recalls.
“It was kind of like a passing of the torch in some ways and since then we’ve gone on to host our own monthly events called Expression Sessions. In our sessions, the collaborative art process is the centrepiece but we also combine that experience with meaningful discussions, music, yoga and other artistic and creative platforms to encourage people to lose their inhibitions a little.
“We believe creativity is essential and that all people should be able to explore their limits and abilities through self-expression,” Tanya continues. “Our aim is to continue to offer these avenues to people in the community to come and enjoy a new experience and see what they find out about themselves and the world around them.”
With sessions centred around a specific theme, the artistic meetups encourage people to break free from their comfort zone, try something new, consider and understand a range of concepts and benefit from a shared experience as a group.
Even if you’ve never held a paint brush before and the idea of creating a piece of art in front of a group of strangers fills you with dread, it’s not about what you create but the process of taking part that really counts.
“Everyone is welcome. It doesn’t matter your race, religion, culture or background; none of that impacts your ability to participate in our community,” explains Christina.
“People are often worried that they can’t paint or aren’t creative but that’s not the way we should live our life. I think we spend too much time and energy telling ourselves what we can’t do instead of encouraging ourselves to try something new.”
Tanya adds, “What’s really important is breaking the boundaries that separate us from one another and the boundaries we put in place inside ourselves.
“Our sessions help to remind people that small actions, even the stroke of a brush on a canvas, are significant. Each action plays a part in the bigger picture and contributes to something that is bigger than ourselves.”
When it comes to the workplace, sayings like ‘Think outside the box’ and ‘Innovate and create’ are often thrown around as creativity has become a bit of a buzz word across various occupations and industries.
In the same way that adopting a fresh approach and considering new ideas can benefit an organisation, breaking free from our daily routines and the same old way of thinking can also benefit an individual, and that experience of self-exploration is something that Tanya and Christina hope to harness from their events.
“The number of people that come along to sessions and are sceptical in the beginning then leave with a huge smile on their face is truly amazing,” explains Christina. “Seeing the transformation and creative liberation in people is incredibly inspiring and I think exploring creativity has a profound effect on an individual.”
Tanya adds, “Sometimes all it takes is being given the space to paint or create something to realise that you have the ability and potential to explore new ideas and activities in your life.
“We are all creators. We tend to box ourselves in in our lives and we all have a sense of what we are, what we do and what we are capable of. We tell ourselves that the walls we build around ourselves are fixed, but that’s completely inaccurate.”
Behind the desire to empower the community to explore creative outlets, the long-term aim and application of Blank Canvas Community has always been about giving back, not only to the community itself but to causes and charities that can make a difference to people’s lives.
“For us, it’s always about giving back to the community, whether that’s helping other grassroots organisations carry on what they’re doing or helping to invest in charitable work or projects that do social good,” Tanya explains.
“That’s another driving force behind what we do and something that we hope to expand as Blank Canvas Community continues to develop in the future. The idea of going full circle and making an impact elsewhere with what we are able to do is one area that we want to grow.”
Christina adds, “Our idea of what Blank Canvas is has evolved. We want to turn what we create in these sessions into a means of being able to fund workshops for other communities or a charity.
“Giving back and making a difference is important to us and we can’t wait to see what happens next.”