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Sara Barackzay has made headlines recently, she’s become known as Afghanistan’s first female animation artists and illustrators and she’s determined to share her story, educate the world about the real Afghanistan and share her skills with other women.
Sara Barackzay was born in Herat in western Afghanistan, under Taliban rule. At the age of four, she began drawing but she spent most of her childhood amid the devastation of the War in Afghanistan, which broke out when she was only seven years old. “The war was all present when I was a child.”
After high school, Barackzay won a fully-funded scholarship to the Department of Cartoon and Animation, Faculty of Fine Arts, Design and Architecture in Başkent University in Istanbul, Turkey. The opportunity to study abroad helped improve her talent and while in education, the artist held over 30 digital arts courses in Afghanistan, when she visited home.
After university, she began working on children’s book projects with the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and UNESCO, which are distributed in schools around the country.
The drawings created for UNICEF aim to reach out to children who are unable to go to school. The drawings are simple and can be easily understood. On top of designing children’s books, Barackzay also designs clothes, creating her own cartoon series and teaches illustration and animation.
Talking to The Guardian in an interview at the beginning of March 2021, Barackzay explained: “Afghan women try so hard – maybe even harder than others – to reach their goals. It’s one of the messages I want to communicate through my art.” This is evident in her work: scenes of an Afgan woman breaking open prison bars or a young girl dancing without a concern in the world, oblivious to the background scenes of war, the tanks and explosions.
Her art is reflective of her childhood struggles and the current difficulties that Afgan women face every day. But more than that, she discusses topics such as peace and war, women’s rights and current social issues. “I always had big dreams, but fighting for them was never easy. Afghan women continue to face many limitations, and gaining my own freedom is possibly the biggest challenge I’ve faced – and it’s a struggle that continues. I am still finding my way.”
Sara Barackzay shared her story with the Turkish news outlet, Anadolu Agency back in January 2021: “The schools are still blown up in my country. Girls have dreams and goals, but there are problems with going to school. The war environment makes this situation even more difficult. The girls are trying to achieve them against all odds and one of them is me. Despite all these problems, I want to achieve my dreams. My parents also help me a lot.”
But Barackzay’s work doesn’t stop there. Often, she includes animals from her childhood, the family pets; the cats and rabbits, the chickens and the frogs. She hopes to change people’s opinion of her country: “The other goal is to change perceptions about Afghanistan: my country is full of kind people, amazing food and an old culture, and that’s what I want to show to the world.”
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE FOR SARA BARACKZAY?
Before attending university in Turkey, Barackzay tried to introduce and teach painting, animation and illustration to women. Her university studies allowed her to boost her skills as an artist, which in turn improved her skills as a teacher. “ I opened a lot of courses in Afghanistan and trained women. I have held 30 face-to-face and online courses.”
Barackzay explained to Anadolu Agency that setting up courses in animation and illustration wasn’t all plain sailing: “When I started animation, they were mocking my work. It was widely known in my country. I wanted to teach, but the students did not show up. Sometimes the power went out, and there was no place to teach. The parents did not let the girls come. But we are slowly overcoming these obstacles. We even managed to work in the dark without electricity.” She told The Guardian, “I even receive threats because of what I do, but I came back to Afghanistan to teach animation to other young girls and to one day open a university here.”
Since those early days, things have been moving forward: “We formed the first animation team in Afghanistan. There are now 400 students in this group. I am very happy because we can finally design animations and books together.”
She explained to Anadolu Agency that, “As Afghanistan lacks an environment of confidence, people cannot easily achieve their goals. I have loved art and design since I was a kid. I started drawing myself. Unfortunately, this kind of art is underrated while fields like medicine and engineering are valued more in Afghanistan. When I was a kid, I wanted to study art. I have faced a lot of obstacles, but I have not given up.”
With rising insecurities in Afghanistan and the lack of quality healthcare, Barackzay faces an uneasy future. Fighting has increased in recent years and according to the UN, there were more than 3,000 civilians killed last year.
But Sara Barackzay has big ambitions: She hopes to reach more women in Afghanistan, teaching them skills in animation, illustration and graphic design. “I dream of making the future easier for at least some girls in Afghanistan.” She also wishes to join Disney or Pixar as an animation artist one day. But her main ambition? “But my number one dream remains for my country: lasting peace.”