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200 kg, 58,000 2-cm wooden cubes.(Cow Sculpture, 2012). 200 kg, 58,000 2-cm wooden cubes.(Cow Sculpture, 2012).

In 1987, Palestinian activists were developing alternative and autonomous structures that would separate them economically from the Israeli military occupation. In one such experimental project in Beit Sahour, residents hoped to produce dairy products locally, as an alternative to the monopoly of the Israeli company Tnuva. The residents of Beit Sahour bought several cows for that purpose. A few days after the start of production, the Israeli army invaded the farm, arrested the activists, and closed it down. The activists decided to smuggle the cows at night and hide them in their houses, backyards, and eventually in caves in the surrounding mountains. The Israeli army went on a massive, four-year hunt for the 18 cows that represented autonomy for the Palestinians and a “threat to national security” for Israel.

In 1991 the Madrid Accords were signed and as a consequence the strife for resistance and autonomy was replaced by a relationship of dependence on the occupying power.The cows were left suspended in midair, grazing on the Paris Protocol and peering at KFC’s grand inauguration.

 

Al-Majdal interviewed Amer Shomali on 20 May 2013.

Al-Majdal: Why pixilate a cow?

Amer Shomali: The Beit Sahour cow saga is one of the symbols of the First Intifada. I pixilated the cow as an illustration of the Intifada, to show that it is still incomplete and stuck in time.

The dairy project was abandoned in the wake of institutionalizing the Palestinian National Authority through the Oslo period [1991-1995], in response to the emphasis on so-called state-building that the activists saw as a corrupt deviation from the Intifada. With the onset of the Oslo talks and Agreements, the Palestinian dairy initiative never had the chance to fully take root. As such, I materialized the cow at a midway point. Oslo ‘fully loaded’ institution-building while detracted from local projects like dairy production in Beit Sahour. Interrupted, the cow, like the struggle for liberation, is still loading.

The cow glances over her shoulder in an imitation of the cliché seductive pose found on contemporary magazine covers to Renaissance paintings of women. In imitation of its successful sister: Oslo, the cow tries to appear ‘sexy’ and attractive.

AM: What happened to the original cows over the course of the Oslo Process?

AS: Following the initiation of the Oslo Process, the Beit Sahour activists abandoned the project in dismay and in protest against what they saw as the political leadership’s corrupt pursuit of statehood. Of the original 18 cows from 1987, the remaining four were butchered after Oslo I was signed. It was a symbolic slaughter of popular resistance, not by the Palestinian people, but by the Palestinian leadership.

AM: What was the process of rendering a 3-dimensional form of the cow?

AS: I used the Rhinoceros modeling tool for designers. The computer image of the cow displays the form dissected into 52 layers, which the team used as a map to show us where to place the black and white wooden cubes made by a local carpenter. Over the course of 25 days, 20 volunteers assisted in constructing the cow with glue by following the layered map. In order to get the black color on the cubes, we set up a barbecue in the studio and grilled the cubes dark.

AM: Where is the pixilated cow now?

AS: The project was produced for an exhibit in Qalandia International 2012 (http://www.qalandiyainternational.org/). The cow now sits in permanent exhibit at the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center in Ramallah. The small studio I used was provided by the Center and had a large door facing the Evangelical Lutheran Schoolof Hope across the street. We usually left the door open and the school children were very curious about the project - bringing their families to check on our progress as well as assist in gluing the layers of cow pixels together. Of the almost two dozen volunteers, I only knew three or four; the rest were school children, families or people who happened to pass by and assisted with the work. I find it important to emphasize their voluntary help as existing evidence of the spontaneous, collaborative and community-based spirit which was so fundamental to the First Intifada.

Shomali is currently working on an animated documentary about the First Intifada experience, centering around the cows’ narrative. The trailer to the 90-minute documentary “The Wanted 18” is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJcfJTELmoM.


*Amer Shomali is a Palestinian artist and activist working in animation, illustration, and political cartoons using art to interact with the social and political Palestinian context. He holds a Master’s degree in animation from Bournemouth University in the United Kingdom. His work has been exhibited in the Middle East and Europe, and his short film “Dying of the Light” was screened around the world. Shomali is the co-founder of ZAN Studio in Ramallah, Palestine, where he currently resides.

 

** “Visit Amer Shomali’s website at: http://www.amershomali.info/.”