Renowned artist helps Sense design an Arts Manifesto

Tanya Raabe-Webber in her studio surrounded by her art and materials. Tanya is wearing a burgundy dress and has short brown hair and glasses.
Tanya Raabe-Webber in her studio surrounded by her art and materials

‘The notion of my own diversity drives my interest in people and the exploration of the human condition’

Tanya Raabe-Webber

As part of the Sense Connect programme which combats isolation and loneliness for people with complex disabilities, Sense Arts commissioned renowned artist Tanya Raabe – Webber to create a manifesto for the work. The manifesto is intended to outline a broad set of statements to support disabled people and artists during the pandemic and beyond. Each statement has been created in collaboration with the people we support and Tanya has created visual pieces to represent her thoughts and ideas.
Artist, Tanya Raabe-Webber shares her story.

Hello everyone! Let me tell you a bit about me before I tell you about the manifesto.

My name is Tanya Raabe-Webber, I’m a disabled artist. At an early age I discovered that I was good at drawing and painting and that this gave me a voice to tell the stories of my life as a disabled person living in a disabling world. I have made a very successful career out of being an artist as a painter of people, including painting portraits of many well know disabled people who have pioneered significant changes in our society. One of my favourites was Neil Baldwin, a man with a learning disability who was the subject of the BBC drama documentary about his life called ‘Marvelous’. My portraits celebrate disabled people’s lives and have been exhibited in many of our public galleries including the Tate and the National Portrait Gallery in London. I have also spent a lot of my career supporting and nurturing other artists to reach their potential on their own terms. In 2015 I set up ArtStudio01 which supports 7 learning disabled artists to make their work and to develop their professional practice

Now that you know more about me let me begin the story of this manifesto.
I was asked by Sense Arts to create a manifesto for Sense Connect –

This manifesto draws from the lives, interests, likes, strengths and innovations people with complex disabilities, their peers and families, lead on as the experts of their own lives and identities.

An iPad digital scribbly pen sketch of a zoom session made up of eight squares and faces.
An iPad digital scribbly pen sketch of a zoom session

As the artist and creator of this manifesto I began by asking myself as a disabled person what does loneliness mean to me. I remembered my early childhood where I was bought up in a boarding school for disabled children with complex needs. Loneliness was deeply felt in those initial times but as time went by I was embraced by the sense of community, friendship and connection that emerged from this life experience.

An iPad scribble sketch of two faces looking at a string of beads with text reading ‘Celebration’ at the bottom of the sketch
An iPad scribble sketch of two faces looking at a string of beads with text reading ‘Celebration’ at the bottom of the sketch

My next challenge was how can I relate this to the Sense Connect virtual space and experiences. I began this process by joining several of the Sense Connect virtual sessions to find out what goes on. In my home studio I did a lots of drawings on my iPad capturing moments in time. I drew fast and furiously as people enjoyed making, moving, singing, talking and most essentially connecting with each other.

Tanya at work in her studio, creating a digital still, using a stylus and an iPad. Tanya is surrounded by her artwork.
Tanya at work in her studio, creating a digital still.

As a disabled artist, a cultural perspective, and a leader in supporting learning disabled artists with complex needs, the notion of my own diversity drives my interest in people and the exploration of the human condition.

I believe that everyone has the potential to be creative if given the opportunity.

A digital sketch of a smiling face that Tanya created using an iPad.
A digital sketch of a smiling face.

Insert picture description – an iPad Scribble sketch of a smiling face closeup
Each painting depicts a moment in time capturing the essence of independence and identity of the Sense Connect virtual sessions. These moments convey and reflect ways that the virtual content will help to reduce loneliness among the families and people with complex needs now and in the future.

We have created four statements that reflect the ethos of the work created
Be bold, be curious
Seek new experiences
Find joy in the challenge
Connect and be connected

An acrylic painting entitled 'The Information Seeker'. The painting is on canvas and has a mixing pallet to the left of the picture. The picture is of a man with brown hair wearing glasses.
An acrylic painting entitled ‘The Information Seeker’

Each individual portrait signifies a different element of the manifesto and its intentions. These intentions relate directly to an individual and collective experience.

An acrylic painting called "A Chain in Progress". Arcrylic on canvas which shows two people holding up a chain made up of mulitiple colours
An acrylic painting called “A Chain in Progress”
"A Celebration of Life" - acrylic on canvas. A black and white picture of a mother and daughter.
A Celebration of Life

It is hoped that this manifesto conveys and reflects ways that the virtual content will help to reduce loneliness among the families and people with complex needs now and in the future. It will do this by showing that connections and collaborations, access and inclusion, sensory play and activities, and quality experience achieved in a virtual space can and do significantly reduce loneliness.

"An Unexpected Journey"  - A colour painting of a mother holding her child.
An Unexpected Journey

The work will be shared amongst all of the Sense Connect artists to unite the work under the themes I have identified. Each artist will then interpret what it means to their own discipline and share through their online content.

This Artwork is only the beginning of this manifesto and it is hoped that the legacy be added to as we move out of this pandemic in to a new hybrid life of embracing the virtual with the physical.

Thanks everyone who I met at the zoom sessions and thanks for listening. It’s been a joyful challenge.

Bye for now!

Tanya Painter of People

You can download the Sense Arts Manifesto, by visiting the Sense Arts page on our website.

Author: Sunney Sharma

Sunney Sharma is Arts and Wellbeing Manager at Sense.

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