Sara al-Bayati is a young Iraqi woman with high hopes in what some Iraqis have told her they think is a low place. Al-Bayati comes from the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk and studies law at university there; but this is not why she has a following on social media. It is because the 21-year-old is teaching herself special effects make-up and also paints in a similar style to the make-up she creates.
Inspired by a television series called Face Off, originally on the US science fiction cable channel, Syfy, al-Bayati wanted to try what the contestants on the show did; they competed to come up with the best special effects.
Ordinary lives in Iraq can be a like a horror movie anyway. People are well acquainted with blood and death and bombings.
This being Iraq and al-Bayati being a student, it was difficult to get the kinds of tools she needed. But after researching the work on the Internet, al-Bayati found she could make do with what she had. Today she uses very simple ingredients: For example, mixing white honey with cocoa and red food colouring to create a substance that looks like blood.
“Compared to the professionals, I use really simple things,” explains al-Bayati, who believes that if she was able to get hold of the same kinds of equipment special effects artists did in other parts of the world, that she would have learned a lot more by now.
At first, her family were not encouraging. Creating bloody wounds and monstrous faces was not something that Iraq necessarily needed.
“Coming from Kirkuk I have seen a lot of terrible scenes,” admits al-Bayati. “And these have had an impact on my life. I still remember all the bloody scenes.”
But al-Bayati would not be dissuaded and eventually she turned to social media for support, posting her drawings and her make-up on Facebook and Instagram.
“The first drawings I posted and the reaction I got made me feel as though what I was doing, was of some artistic value,” al-Bayati told NIQASH. “People have followed my page and they like my work and that motivates me to carry on.”
Her work has since been noticed and she has managed to work with local actors in the theatre. Al-Bayati concedes that the field she aspires to work in is still relatively new to Iraq but she hopes one day to be able to work in Hollywood, or maybe even to make an Iraqi film featuring her special effects.
“Ordinary lives in Iraq can be a like a horror movie anyway,” al-Bayati says, justifying her ambitions despite opposition from her family. “People are well acquainted with blood and death and bombings.”