SAVAC (South Asian Visual Arts Centre) is the only non-profit, artist-run centre in Canada dedicated to supporting South Asian artists. For over two decades, SAVAC has increased the visibility of culturally diverse artists by curating and exhibiting their work, providing mentorship, and facilitating professional development.

Our mission is to produce programs that explore issues and ideas shaping the identities and experiences of people from the region and its diasporas. We encourage work that is challenging, experimental and engaged in critical discussions that offer new perspectives on the contemporary world.

SAVAC develops and produces a range of contemporary visual art interventions and programs. We work without a gallery space, and typically in collaboration with other artist-run centres, public galleries and visual arts organizations. This unique, collaborative model allows for SAVAC to play a vital role in Canada’s visual arts ecology by expanding the frameworks that support culturally diverse perspectives in art.

 

History

From 1989-2001, Desh Pardesh (meaning “home away from home”) existed as a multi-disciplinary arts festival and conference dedicated to providing a venue for underrepresented and marginalized voices within the South Asian diasporic community, particularly left wing and queer South Asian artists and academics. The early iteration of the Desh mandate described the organization as follows:

Desh is lesbian and gay positive, feminist, anti-racist, anti-imperialist and anti caste/classist. Desh exists to ensure that the voices and expressions of those constituencies in the South Asian community which are systematically silenced are provided with a community forum. In particular: independent artists, cultural producers and activists who are women, lesbians and gays, people with disabilities, working class people and seniors. (Clara Thomas Archives)

For eleven years, Desh held an annual summer conference and arts festival (film screenings, workshops, issue-driven seminars, spoken work and literary readings, music, dance and performance art pieces) as well as periodic arts development workshops, community outreach seminars, mini-festivals, art exhibits, and film retrospectives. It also served as a resource centre and referral service to various South Asian community groups and artists, cultural organizations and activists.

 

Timeline

1987 Khush: South Asian Gay Men of Toronto is founded. Khush has an active membership of around 100 people, with a mandate to “educate South Asian gay men and the wider gay community about South Asian culture, as well as to forge connections amongst the South Asian community, South Asian cultural producers/artists, and the gay community”. (Clara Thomas Archives)

1988 Khush and Gay Asian Toronto organize “Unity Among Asians,” a conference for Asian lesbians and gay men in North America.

1989 Members of Khush organize SALAAM TORONTO, a one-day celebration at the 519 Community Centre, featuring arts, literature, food, culture, games, and performance, drawing a crowd of around 800 people.

1990 Khush hosts Khalla (later to become Desh Pardesh), a three-evening event of video and film, music and dance, hosted at Euclid Theatre, “intended to provide a forum for South Asian artists” aiming to “incite dialogue […] and to begin an interrogation of what South Asian culture is”. (Clara Thomas Archives)

1990 Festival undergoes name change from Khalla Festival to Des/Pardes or Desh Pardesh.

1992 Desh lengthens and broadens programming, funding and staffing, and includes film/video, poetry/fiction, theatre/performance, dance, live music, DJs, non-fiction/criticism/journalism, visual art/photography.

1993 Desh is established as a permanent organization with a small membership fee and working board.

1993/94 A group of visual artists who had been working together to curate the visual arts component of Desh, come together to form South Asian Visual Arts Collective (later to be named the South Asian Visual Arts Centre, or SAVAC)

1994 Desh and ASAAP (Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention) are incorporated as non-profit organizations.

1997 SAVAC is formally established as an artist-run centre, working in close collaboration with Desh.

2001 Desh Pardesh festival and its administrative body are closed, due largely to the
financial crisis.

2001 SAVAC is provincially incorporated.

2004 SAVAC celebrates its 10th anniversary.

2008 SAVAC changes its name from South Asian Visual Arts Collective to South Asian Visual Arts Centre to more accurately reflect its organizational purpose and structure as an artist-run centre. In this year, SAVAC also becomes federally incorporated and celebrates its 15th anniversary.

2009 SAVAC is awarded charitable status.

2013 SAVAC is awarded multi-year the Ontario Trillium Foundation funding for a project that will involve the creation of an archive that traces the history of SAVAC as an organization, and the people and groups that preceded it. 

2014 SAVAC celebrates 20 years of existence and 10 years of Monitor: South Asian Experimental Film + Video program.

Additional Resources

Leah Lakshmi Piepznsa-Samarasinha, “Artists, Rebels, Warriors: Desh Pardesh’s Legacy and the Future of Radical South Asian Art“. Fuse Magazine, Issue 27.4 (2004)   

Rachel Kalpana James, From Foreign Shores” Art India, Volume 9, Issue I. (2004)

Sharon Fernandez, More than Just an Arts Festival- Communities, Resistance, and the Story of Desh Pardesh Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 31, No 1 (2006)

 

Poster for "Insight: The 1st Canadian South Asian Women's Art Exhibit" at Art Metropole (1993)

"The Lady Excusing Her Love Bites As Cat Scratches", an experimental performance directed by Tazeen Qayyum for Artsweek 2003.