South Asian Visual Arts Centre

The South Asian Visual Arts Centre (SAVAC—formerly the South Asian Visual Arts Collective) was established in 1997 by a group of artists who programmed for Desh Pardesh, a multi-disciplinary arts festival that ran in Toronto from 1988 to 2001. SAVAC is an artist-run centre that focuses on promoting contemporary visual art representing the South Asian diaspora, but its work also includes audio projects, community workshops, and panels that result from collaborations with artists, galleries, and other arts organizations.

In August 2007, SAVAC launched a major project called "Big Stories, Little India" in collaboration with [murmur], an oral history project installed in cities including Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary (for more information see Visible City's interview with Shawn Micallef, co-creator of [murmur]). "Big Stories, Little India" was located in Toronto's Gerrard Street India Bazaar and combined the multi-disciplinary work of artists Ambereen Siddiqui, Amin Rehman, Avantika Bawa, Brendan Fernandes, Rashmi Varma and Zaheed Mawani. The works explored lived experiences of immigrants and residents of the neighbourhood that have scarcely been documented, and were installed across the area in restaurants, stores, and the local Ashdale Library.

In a catalogue essay for the 2008 exhibition entitled Urban Myths & Modern Fables, Executive Director Haema Sivanesan touches on a recurring theme for SAVAC: many of the curated or produced art works "take up a questioning of history to reflect on issues of cultural politics—its antecedents and imperialistic resonances. Working in the diaspora, and thereby drawing on both Eastern and Western references, the artists are engaged with a critique of the naturalized discourses of culture." This was also the case a decade earlier in 1998, when SAVAC developed a postering project inspired by the interwoven histories of activism and art. The Street Art Postering Project used mainstream media and commercial venues to address social, cultural, and political issues relevant to the South Asian diaspora, and to question "the underlying assumptions of institutional art practices and Eurocentric notions of art and aesthetic object-production" (Kevin D'Souza, "Taking it to the Streets" Catalogue, 1999).

The Visible City Project conducted interviews with Sivanesan; Srimoyee Mitra, Programming Coordinator; and Ambereen Siddiqui, Education and Outreach Officer and one of the artists featured in "Big Stories, Little India." The interviewees speak to the complexities of "South Asian" identity, identity-based art, forging international networks, and the experience of producing "Big Stories, Little India."

SAVAC's website includes a comprehensive archive of its past projects.

Audio recordings and images produced for "Big Stories, Little India" are available at The website was launched in July 2008.

- Ya-Yin Ko

Interview with Srimoyee Mitra, SAVAC Programming Coordinator

Part 1, "About SAVAC"
Part 2, "Big Stories, Little India"


Interview with Haema Sivanesan, Executive Director

Part 1, "Community and identity-based art"
Part 2, "The 'cultural mosaic' and forming international networks"


Interview with Ambereen Siddiqui, Education and Outreach Officer

"Engaging with Little India's residents and history"


Visible City: Project + Archive is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of CanadaCanada Research Chairs, York Research, Ontario Innovation Trust, and the Canada Foundation for Innovation. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.