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'Disney is My Dream': Afghanistan's First Woman Animator Aims Higher Despite Challenges

22-year-old Sara Barackzay is the first female animator of Afghanistan. 
(Credit: Sara Barackzay)

22-year-old Sara Barackzay is the first female animator of Afghanistan. (Credit: Sara Barackzay)

22-year-old Sara Barackzay, the first female animator of Afghanistan, has her sight on Disney and Pixar and wants to run her own animation institution in the country soon.

Afghanistan’s first woman animator. The title has been a hard-earned one for 22-year-old Sara Barackzay, but years of struggle and hard toil in a conservative society have been worth it. Barackzay’s journey to becoming the conflict-torn country’s first woman animator has been fraught with a myriad of threats and hurdles. In fact, Barackzay is a lot more than what meets the eyes. Decades of conflict have marked a question mark over the fate of Afghan women who have been struggling for their fundamental rights, trying to break free from a patriarchal coop.

“In Afghanistan, in addition to war and lack of facilities, they don’t care about art and animation because visual arts are considered sinful,” Barackzay tells News18. She adds, “It was a hard task to achieve this title. But it feels amazing and I want to be a good start to it! Of course, it comes with an array of responsibilities, but the first among that would be to lay the groundwork for this industry in the country.”

Barackzay’s art is clearly impacted by the social situation of her country — war, peace, children and women’s rights, nature and so on. “To work for Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks is my biggest dream indeed,” says Barackzay, who has set sight on establishing her own animation institute in Afghanistan to promote the cultural side of it which “probably you haven’t seen”.

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As a child, Barackzay started painting on anything and everything that she spotted, especially her dolls. As early as four or five years old, she had realised where her interests were. But the path to having her passion as a profession was a considerable struggle, brimming with challenges at every step. The very first to begin with is to escape the rule of the Taliban.

“I remember looking outside my window and watching the Taliban pour boiling water on women. The past continues to haunt me,” recalls Barackzay. Growing up in that Herat was a mixed experience for her. As a young girl, she enjoyed the garden around her house and made sketches of nature, but the war-time memories and experiences took a toll on her.

Afghanistan was ruled by the fundamentalist group from 1996 until the US-led invasion in 2001. Since then, it has waged an insurgency against the US-backed government in Kabul. However, the Taliban has only grown stronger after 2001 and reportedly controls one-fifth of the country and has been on an offensive across the country.

When war entered the interiors of the city, Barackzay’s family was forced into hiding in the basements of a village. Looking back at many such traumatising events, she remembers how children managed to attend “secret, private schools” that ran underground to ensure youth’s education went unhindered.

(Credit: Sara Barackzay)

Suffering from a hearing illness since childhood, followed by wrong diagnosis and lack of medical facilities in a war-ridden city, Barackzay’s health troubles accentuated her entire battle to establish herself in a country where “even families don’t want their daughters to progress or take risks in the society”. The long-followed tradition of getting daughters married at a young age has set in to be a norm, so much so that even girls have accepted it as their fate.

The young girl considers herself as her own biggest pillar of support after she even lost the support of her own family. When she received her scholarship to pursue Animation and Cartooning at the Baskent University, Turkey, it was a hard time convincing her family to let her take up a ‘dream course’. “I tried to stay firm about my decision. Learning to be independent enough to take responsibility for my choices has always been my guiding motto,” she says.

With a firm resolve, Barackzay’s first ‘professional’ work in 2013 for Turkey Animation Festival proved to be a huge success. Since then it has been mostly an upscale journey, with challenges that she is learning to overpower every day.

Barackzay now tutors many students, especially girls, in Herat and simultaneously designs children’s books. Besides collaborating with many institutions, she is actively working on her animation series.

She wants to make her next stop with a master’s degree in animation from a reputed university in France or the United States of America. “This would mean becoming professional enough to bring about some differences in a country, distressed with violence and war, through art,” she says.

In the male-dominated Afghan society, while men have had it easy, a basic thing like access to education has been a tedious task for women. “My work was looked down upon and it still is. I was asked to get over my childish activities and stop flaunting my success. I have been threatened. I have to go through my own set of struggles, breakdown and failures. But not giving up is my only motive,” says Barackzay.

Fighting has increased in Afghanistan with more than 3,000 civilians killed last year alone, according to the UN and if experts are to be believed, the casualties would increase with a probable withdrawal of US troops in May.

“Seeing peace return to my country would always be my undying hope!”

first published:March 28, 2021, 12:14 IST