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SALA Festival Highlights South Asian Artists and Authors Making Their Mark

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Three women sitting in chairs, holding microphones
Writers Hetal Vasavada, Madhushree Ghosh and Vina Patel (l-r) speaking on a panel at the 2022 South Asian Literature and Arts Festival held in Saratoga, CA. This year’s festival will run Oct. 7 and 8 at Menlo College in Atherton, CA. (Hetal Soni)

When the Bay Area non-profit Art Forum SF first launched the South Asian Literature and Arts Festival in 2019, it was with a specific mission in mind: spotlighting contemporary South Asian voices making waves in the arts.

“Here in the Bay Area, South Asians are definitely seen as the tech or the math people,” says Ambika Sahay, executive director at Art Forum SF. “We wanted to showcase through the SALA Festival that culture, art and literature is also very viable. And there is space for that within the South Asian community — and that South Asian community is doing a lot.”

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For this year’s SALA Festival, being held Oct. 7 and 8 at Menlo College in Atherton, the theme is “Changing Narratives” — around how South Asian cultures are perceived and understood by the international community. And how creative minds from South Asia and its diaspora are impacting and shaping current conversations. 

Two women standing outside next to a colorful artwork drawn on the pavement
Art Forum SF executive director Ambika Sahay (left) and artist Purvi Shah next to Shah’s Rangoli artwork. Rangoli originated in India and is meant to bring prosperity. (Courtesy of Ambika Sahay)

“We are trying to showcase how mainstream South Asians are getting,” Sahay says. 

Some of this year’s panels include a diasporic conversation on dating, the intersection of art and AI, the next generation of leaders in the spice industry and how South Asian communities are making cricket popular again in the U.S.

Another panel titled “Scene and Heard,” about South Asian stories and storytellers in film and TV, features Simran Baidwan. Baidwan, who was born in San Jose and raised in Fremont, is a TV writer and producer who has worked on hit shows like The Good Doctor and Manifest. A lawyer for some years before following her passion for writing, Baidwan is excited to return home for the festival with an awareness that an event like this didn’t exist when she was growing up.

“To see people who are really blooming and growing within the arts and within our specific community is really beautiful and I like seeing it for the next generations,” Baidwan says.

Youth wearing colorful costumes perform a dance routine outside in front of a large building.
Youth performing at the 2022 SALA Festival. (Ambika Sahay)

In addition to a wide range of panels, the festival features food, music, poetry and dance. “It is something that’s going to hit your senses in all ways,” Sahay says. Plus, this year: opera.

Melissa Sondhi, a rising opera talent who recently co-starred in the San Jose Opera’s production of Roméo et Juliette, will perform an aria at the festival. 

“I think people — authors and poets and all of them — have felt that they did not have a mainstream voice yet,” says Kiran Malhotra, an Art Forum SF board member who helps curate the festival. “We just want them to have a platform where they can be themselves.”

The South Asian Literature and Arts Festival is Oct. 7 and 8 at Menlo College in Atherton. Click here for more info.

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