#WKNDConversation: Sara Barackzay, Afghanistan’s first female animator
The story of Sara Barackzay, Afghanistan’s first female animator, is one of a warrior. Having lost her sense of hearing as a child and growing up in a war zone, she not only pursued her dreams but is now encouraging young girls to follow suit
At 22, Sara Barackzay is Afghanistan’s first female animator, but she is a lot more than what meets the eye. Her bold works speak of her struggles as a child, serve as a reflection of the current state of distress of her home country, just as much as they speak of her dreams of empowering girls and representing her country’s culture. Sara started to paint when she was four, and loved to paint even on her dolls, “I knew it early on that I wished to create and that’s why I didn’t accept any obstacles and always designed.” Currently, she shifts between Turkey and Hert as her places of residence. At Hert, she is occupied teaching young girls, “My students are from every city, but most of them are in Hert. Little by little, the number of students has increased.” While she aspires to work with Disney and Pixar in the future, she also hopes to establish an animation studio and university in Afghanistan.
Even as one speaks about colours and pixels with her, the conversation steers towards the Taleban, as she confesses, “Violence has increased in Afghanistan and I have no feeling except fear. For me, the biggest dream is peace in Afghanistan. When I see the situation in the country, I feel a sense of disappointment and I do not even want to imagine the return of the Taleban.”
Excerpts from an interview:
What was the first-ever animation you did?
I did originally make a lot of animations as I learnt, but my first professional animation was in 2013 for the Istanbul Animation Festival.
What were the thoughts running in your mind on winning the scholarship at Program of Cartoon and Animation, Bakent Üniversitesi, Turkey?
I didn’t know what to do when I heard the results. I had to travel to Turkey as soon as possible because the course had begun. Two of my friends too had won scholarships with me, and the three of us went to Turkey together. I lived in a rented house in Ankara and sometimes in a dormitory. On one hand, I was saddened at the idea of leaving my family and country, and on the other, the start of a new life was exciting for us. In the end, travelling and studying made me stronger than ever.
And how did you pick up the language, Turkish?
By reading books, watching Turkish movies, and being in Turkey itself. I need to credit the Smurfs animation for making it easier to learn the language.
How did your parents take to the news of you wishing to travel to Turkey and pursue animation as a career?
Initially, my family supported me, but not always. I have always tried to convince them and be strong and independent enough to be responsible for my choices. In Afghanistan, the youth doesn’t receive much support, but that doesn’t mean that they should not pursue their dreams or that they would choose the wrong path.
Tell us about your formative years.
We faced many unfortunate incidents. When it was inside the city of war, we went to the village. We mostly stayed in the basements and even had secret private schools that taught underground. I have three sisters. The two younger ones are in school, and the elder one graduated from the university a few years ago and is now a martial arts coach.
Could you share a memory from your childhood that you hold dear?
I loved going out in nature, painting and designing and making various craft. I used to paint on wood with a knife. I made collectables by melting the plastic caps and using them to make rings out of them.
You suffered loss of hearing as a child. Do you recall the hardships you faced and how you overcame them all?
I lost my sense of hearing due to a doctor’s carelessness. I couldn’t hear well, but with the help of my family, I learnt how to speak and hear. I recall my father holding cotton in his hands and pronouncing the letters. I learnt to speak by moving cotton. I also read a lot of books, paid attention to nature, and even did art research on nature. All of this helped me to be able to speak easily and understand better. When I turned eight, I started using a hearing aid, which solved many issues, and I went to a regular school like everyone else and finished my studies. Fortunately, I managed to graduate.
How does a day in your professional life look like?
I am designing children’s books and working with several companies and institutions. I am even working on an animation, for which I’ve written the script. In short, I work in drawing and animation for 24 hours, as I try to learn well.
What are your plans for the future?
I aspire to work in reputable animation studios in developed countries. I also wish to pursue a Masters in France or the US. At some point, I want to work for Disney and Pixar and establish an animation studio and university in Afghanistan.