Featured Story By : Tom White


Immersed in the potent aroma of rain-soaked earth and the deep, melodic hum of tribal chants, Sej Saraiya captures moments most of us can only dream of. This Los Angeles-based cultural-conservation photographer and filmmaker has made it her life’s work to document and aid in the preservation of diverse Indigenous cultures and wisdom around the globe. From the remote corners of India to the lush expanses of British Columbia, Saraiya’s lens has witnessed a spectrum of human existence enveloped in the rich tapestry of traditions that knit our world together.

Sej Saraiya with a young girl from the Padaung tribe in Loikaw, Myanmar

Saraiya’s journey is as remarkable as the stories she tells. Raised under the influence of the ancient Vedic tradition, she brings a uniquely sensitive perspective to her work. Her photographs, tinged with the delicate nuances of language and tradition, are more than just art—they are living records of cultures that are being driven out of existence by colonization and other powerful forces, radiating the resilient spirit of the Indigenous people and the reciprocal relationship they have with their environment.

A photo by Sej Saraiya of a Mu’un woman

Her photography is not limited to stills; Saraiya is currently co-producing and co-directing a feature documentary on the rise of the Art of Living Foundation in the United States. This global non-profit, founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in 1981, has a presence in more than 150 countries, and its humanitarian projects, guided by the goal of creating a stress-free, violence-free society, have impacted millions worldwide.

Saraiya will also lend her extraordinary talent to the upcoming World Culture Festival this September when she photographs the event at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. This global event, organized by the Art of Living Foundation, is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people from around the world, celebrating diversity and unity through art, music and dance.

Sej Saraiya talking about Indigenous cultures and coexistence at the Garifuna International Film Festival in Los Angeles

However, Saraiya’s work extends beyond photography and film and into the realm of cultural conservation. A striking anecdote from her time in British Columbia reflects the reciprocity and respect embedded in the interactions of Indigenous cultures with their natural environment. While mentoring at the Empowered Indigenous Filmmakers Masterclass, she met Sheree, an elder of the Nlaka’pamux tribe. The old medicine woman talked about the tribe’s reciprocal relationship with nature. Bears and wolves would berry-pick and fish in the mornings, she said, so she would pick medicine at sundown out of respect for the forest.

“If you are ever alone and need to find a plant in a forest for your own healing, lie down on Mother Earth and tell her, ‘I need you to help me find such and such plant. Show me, teach me.’ And she will,” Sheree told Saraiya, insisting on offering something in return for the healing plants as an act of reciprocity.

The wisdom that Saraiya gathers on her journeys doesn’t just stay within the confines of her heart; it reverberates through her work, reminding us of the delicate relationship between humanity and nature—a bond that often fades into oblivion in the chaos of our modern lives.

Saraiya is more than a photographer—she is a storyteller, a cultural conservationist and an advocate for the silenced voices of our world. She hopes to rekindle the dying embers of our connection with the planet through her work, one photograph at a time. Her mission underscores the need for an urgent shift in perspective to preserve the integrity of Indigenous cultures and, in turn, our humanity.

A photo by Sej Saraiya of an Andean elder and a Native American elder at a gathering of Indigenous elders and leaders by the Boa Foundation

Delving into the heart of Saraiya’s story, we find the potent influence of her Indian heritage. The seeds of her cultural-conservation work were sown in her childhood. The three languages she speaks—each bearing unique semantic nuances and intricacies—give her an enriched understanding of culture, tradition and human connection. The value she places on these languages and the traditions they tied to is evident in her deeply reverent approach to documenting Indigenous cultures.

“Traditional songs, dances and clothing are not merely decorative,” says Saraiya. “They hold centuries of history of a people and the land they lived on and are an acknowledgment of the life contained in their environment.” Her ability to perceive and showcase the stories woven into every thread of a tribal costume, each rhythm of a sacred dance and every note of an ancient song distinguishes her work in the field of cultural-conservation photography.

Saraiya’s work has been celebrated with more than 30 worldwide photography exhibitions at prominent venues like the Bowers Museum, the Orange County Airport and the University of Southern California. The photographer has also shared her experiences and insights through lectures, workshops and panels at prestigious institutions such as the Pacific Asia Museum and California State University, Fullerton.

Sej Saraiya’s exhibition at the Lois Lambert Gallery in Los Angeles

Saraiya’s focus on preserving and restoring cultures is unwavering. Not one to rest on her laurels, she continues to challenge herself. Beyond her co-production and co-direction of the documentary about the Art of Living Foundation and her upcoming involvement in the World Culture Festival, she continues to work with organizations focusing on climate action via cultural preservation. Using her platform, she seeks to empower Indigenous communities to regain their traditional knowledge of and practices on their ancestral lands. Additionally, she participates in educational programs that empower Indigenous youth to tell their own stories through photography and film.

Looking back on her journey, Saraiya reflects: “We cannot discuss environmental or wildlife conservation without addressing Indigenous rights. They are inextricably interconnected.”

In her continued exploration of humanity’s rich tapestry, Sej Saraiya continues to encapsulate a profound truth: that our cultural heritage and the wisdom it holds are a cornerstone of our relationship with the natural world. And in capturing this truth through her lens, she is not just preserving our past; she’s illuminating the path toward a more sustainable, empathetic and interconnected future.

KO Media newsroom and editorial staff were not involved in the creation of this content.