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 a challenge 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 struggle for autonomy was replaced by a relationship of dependence on the occupation. 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.
Why pixelate a cow?
The Beit Sahour cow saga is one of the symbols of the First Intifada. I pixelated 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 the Palestinian National Authority’s institutionalization during the Oslo period [1991-1995], in response to the emphasis on so-called state-building that 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 imitating the clichéd pose of seduction found on the likes of contemporary magazine covers and in Renaissance paintings of women. Mimicking its successful sister Oslo, the cow tries to appear ‘sexy’ and attractive.
What was the process of rendering a 3-dimensional form of the cow?
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.
Where is the pixelated cow now?
The project was produced for an exhibit in Qalandia International 2012. The cow now sits in a 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 School of 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 assisting 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.
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. 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 here.
Cow Sculpture (58,000 2-cm wood cubes and 200kg), 2012
Mohammad Nassar (left) and Amer Shomali (right) construct the first layers.
A version of this article originally appeared in “Towards a Prognosis: Diagnosing Fragmentation and Problems of Representation in Palestinian Politics,” the Spring 2013 issue of al-Majdal magazine published by the BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights. Follow BADIL on Facebook and Twitter.