Sara Barackzay has spent much of her short life fighting to overcome the many obstacles faced by an Afghan girl. “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,” Sara said in a 2021 interview with The Guardian. “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—it’s a struggle that continues. I am still finding my way.”
Born in 1999 under the savage rule of the Taliban, a severe illness left Sara deaf before the age of two. Too young to have mastered speech, she was imprisoned by a profound silence. War raged in the surrounding hills, and while Sara didn’t hear the gunfire and bombs, she felt the ground shake and saw the fear in her parents’ eyes. At five, Sara began following her older sister to a secret school where the village girls were taught to read and write. But Sara couldn’t speak, and she knew she was different. She loved books and read the pictures in the same way she read the world around her, through the visual images of animals, insects, plants and people. She drew on her dolls, on pieces of wood, on stones. She spoke to the world with her art. That year, with patience and kindness, her father taught her how to also speak with words. In less than a year, she was talking, and at eight, Sara received hearing aids. At ten, she became a professional at painting and drawing, and started to teaching art to other girls in her village.
Completing high school at fifteen, Sara received a full scholarship to study physics in Turkey. A passionate artist since she had first held a pencil, Sara switched her studies to animation, and graduated with honors. While in university in Turkey, Sara created online and face-to-face animation courses for Afghan girls, returning to Herat each summer to teach. Despite threats from the Taliban and others, Sara established the Afghan Girls Animation Team during this time. In 2020 then-president Ashraf Ghani proposed that she move to Kabul to create a School of Animation. In early 2021, Sara fled to Iran after the Taliban threatened to kill her family if she continued to make art and teach girls. With the help of a dedicated group of supporters, Sara reached Canada in September 2021, and she resided at Green College as the John Grace Memorial Animator in Residence through August, 2022.
Sara’s art has been exhibited around the world including in Afghanistan, Germany, Turkey, India, Australia, Canada and the US. She has illustrated children’s books for UNICEF and private publishers, and her designs have been featured on Afghan clothing. She taught physics and art at the Afghan Turk Girls’ School in Herat and was a mentor for the Afghan Girls’ Robotics Team. Sara has been interviewed by The Guardian, El Pais, and the Khaleej Times, and her art and story have appeared in over twenty international periodicals.