ArtWallah returns after a brief hiatus

Photo Credit: Parimal M. Rohit

Photo Credit: Parimal M. Rohit

SANTA MONICA ¾ A grass roots campaign to revive the celebration of South Asian art is underway in earnest, as a handful of members representing the Indian American community in Southern California - in conjunction with Highways in Santa Monica - have revived ArtWallah.

The art festival showcasing the works and voices of South Asian artists in the Los Angeles area was on hiatus for a few years but returned to Southern California in 2017. This year's festivities were held at the Highways art space in central Santa Monica, June 1-2.

A variety of musicians, dancers, art exhibitors and other performers displayed their artistic displays for two days in front of standing room only audiences, with the aim of telling their stories through art. The two-day art festival was produced and directed by Sheetal Gandhi, a trained dancer who relocated from the San Francisco Bay Area to establish roots in Southern California.

Gandhi, who revived ArtWallah with Shilpa Agarwal, aim to re-establish the South Asian art festival as the destination for artists who have roots from the Indian subcontinent (which is home to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives).

Agarwal, in a recent phone conversation with AH1, hailed the ArtWallah scene as “thriving.” She hopes the festival will soon become a permanent fixture in Los Angeles (and perhaps revive South Asian art festivals in New York, Toronto and other major metropolises).

ArtWallah itself isn’t a new venture - the first iteration of the festival kicked off in 1998. The festival, which held its first events in Downtown Los Angeles, was a steady and annual fixture in the Los Angeles arts scene for a little more than a decade - before going dark for most of the 2010s. Agarwal and Gandhi worked together to bring ArtWallah back to life on 2017. The return of ArtWallah wasn’t a fluke or one-off, as Agarwal, Gandhi and a handful of volunteers and artists managed to showcase local South Asian art again this year. All involved have their respective eyes set on making ArtWallah bigger and better with each passing year.

This year’s event featured the artistic works of Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed, Adnan Hussain and Sona Shah; music of Elephants with Guns, Sheila Govindarajan and Rusty Rickshaw; dance performances by Gandhi, Richa Shukla and Shalini Bathina; and other forms of interpretative and spoken word performances by Aruni Wijeshinghe, Jimy Shah, Lionel Popkin, Reshama Damle and others.

Agarwal called ArtWallah as the ultimate community of artists and a necessary space to bring people together.

“In the 20 year span that its been around, I feel [ArtWallah has been] very important ... it’s a coming together, it’s a coming home, it’s a meeting place, where we see each other's art,” Agarwal told AH1.

She added there are already recurring platforms to showcase Indian film (Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, or IFFLA) and dance performances. Why shouldn’t there be an annual or regular platform to showcase artistic works from the subcontinent, she asked.

ArtWallah, to Agarwal, would showcase art across genres while also promoting community. Everyone participating in ArtWallah would be able to grow together if the art festival reaches its full potential, serving as a home base for South Asian artists.

“It’s about visibility (and) telling our stories. In telling our stories ... there is a way to connect with one's humanity,” Agarwal said, adding ArtWallah also doubles as a forum to bring people together amidst such politically divisive times.

Providing a platform for South Asian artists to tell their respective stories basically allows them to say, “look at us,” according to Agarwal. The platform of ArtWallah, accordingly, offers storytellers and audiences something to relate to, hence allowing the art festival to be a place of “bringing together.”

The current ArtWallah team is looking for a steering to committee and reaching out to artists and having a full call for work, for 2019 and beyond.

The hope, ultimately, is to build a sustainable South Asian arts community in Los Angeles. Perhaps such a community, if successfully established in Southern California, could be replicated in other major cities.

Visit for more information everyone who performed at ArtWallah 2018, on the arts festival and its overall mission.