Across 90 countries worldwide, a staggering 476 million Indigenous individuals comprise approximately 6.2% of the global population. In this rich cultural tapestry, photographer Sejal Saraiya felt driven to give them a channel to narrate their stories and their wisdom. Saraiya aims to preserve and illuminate the fascinating stories of Indigenous elders, granting them a well-deserved spotlight. She captures the essence of their experiences and invites viewers to immerse themselves in their wisdom, inspiring a renewed appreciation for the Earth and its stewards.
Saraiya completed her Master of Fine Arts at the University of Southern California in 2009. Since 2014, she has been an ethnographic and fine-art photographer who has been documenting Indigenous cultures around the world. Saraiya’s work revolves around cultural conservation and environmental stewardship, in which she works closely with Indigenous tribes and expands her efforts to document their environmental stewardship and wildlife preservation.
Saraiya has a unique ability to connect with diverse people and uncover stories that deeply resonate with her audiences. She has climbed active volcanoes, slept under the open sky in the Amazon, and trekked to sacred glaciers to capture evocative portraits that convey the stories of Indigenous communities. Witnessing the erosion of Indigenous cultures due to colonization, she emphasizes the urgent need to safeguard languages, traditions, and wisdom.
Guided by her Vedic upbringing, Saraiya acknowledges the significance of Indigenous rituals, clothing, songs, and dances, allowing her to form connections with various communities worldwide. Through her photographs, she amplifies the voices of Indigenous cultures, inspiring society to protect their collective heritage and the natural world humanity depends on.
Photography has the ability to convey emotions and narratives in a single image, making it a powerful tool for visual storytelling. Sejal Saraiya’s work showcases this by capturing the stories of Indigenous people through her lens. Her photographs provide a window into their lives, enabling viewers to connect with them on a deeper level. Her work amplifies the voices of these individuals and brings their stories to the forefront. Through her photographs, she demonstrates the influence of visual storytelling to bridge gaps and foster understanding between people from different backgrounds.
Since 2022, she has been documenting (via photography and film) wisdom of the Native American elders and global Indigenous leaders at the BOA Foundation’s Aniwa gathering in California. The BOA Foundation works in alliance with Indigenous communities to preserve and protect sacred land, culture, and ancient wisdom, supporting landback projects, restoration of native ecosystems, cultural exchange, and sustainable living solutions.
Saraiya’s powerful photographs of Indigenous cultures from around the world have had a positive impact. She says, “For the longest time, Indigenous peoples have been looked at as objects of fascination. Their ways seemingly foreign, their practices seemingly antiquated. But it is us in the urban civilizations who have forgotten our roots and how to relate to nature. Through my work, I have been able to reintroduce the idea that it is not they who need us but rather we who need them.”
Preserving Indigenous heritage is not without its challenges. Indigenous communities often face numerous obstacles to protecting their heritage, including the death of language and cultural practices due to external pressures and influences, and loss of land. With their lands covering around 28% of the earth’s surface and approximately 11% of the global forest area, Indigenous Peoples have a vital role in safeguarding the planet’s natural heritage as they serve as custodians of most of the world’s remaining biodiversity.
Through her captivating images, Saraiya’s work is essential in raising awareness about these issues. She shines a spotlight on the struggles and resilience of Indigenous communities, her camera serving as a platform for them to spread their message and share their wisdom. Her work serves as a reminder of the importance of preserving Indigenous heritage and the need to support these communities in their efforts to do so.
As Saraiya says, “I photograph to experience and share human existence beyond the precinct of words. It takes an adventurous spirit to venture out to the farthest corners of this earth. Those handfuls who do are obliged to bring back the stories that haven’t been heard, to shine a light on the responsibilities that come with sharing a planet—the importance and urgency of which I portray through my photographs.”
Sej Saraiya’s photography serves as a reminder of the need to support and appreciate these communities. Society must recognize the value of Indigenous heritage and the contributions of Indigenous elders to preserving their cultural knowledge.