All those things that we usually describe as our society, the foundations of our civilization and the elements which constitute our cultural identity are completely shaken in this video by Toni Serra which he filmed in 2004. The sacrifice of a cow in Morocco and its celebration by the members of an extended family, triggers a whole set of reflections about what constitutes “difference” and its political dimension. The death of an animal has been recorded crudely, in its full detail, without make up or scruples. Showing it all, Serra´s camera inserts us into the event itself, it allows us to take part of it, making us think about the inequalities and differences between what we call the western world and what is not a part of it. We feel obliged to rethink concepts or experiences such as death, life, spirituality or the sacred.
It all happens in front of our eyes; the four legs of the cow are tied up slowly, in a calmed manner, while on the surroundings the ritual celebration starts taking place with all of its elements: women sing chants and start dancing, and a group of kids start eating and drinking while staring amazed at what’s going on. One feels that she is a witness of an event shaped by tradition, common knowledge and beliefs, the ritual is full of traces of the past, it has all been rehearsed. The steps are all well known, how to immobilize the animal, how to cut its throat open, it all seems to have been done thousands of times before, it all has its own history that arrives to us, western witnesses, from a distance. This is the reason why it opens up the chance to rethink all the aspects that constitute culture.
One of the main things one starts to think about is our relation to death. In the western world, the killing of the animals which are going to feed us has become something invisible. It doesn’t belong to our day to day lives and we hardly ever get to experience it. It all happens in massive warehouses hidden from our daily experience, it has been industrialized. We could argue that in the west death is something anonymous, it remains hidden. But in different cultures to ours, as we can see in this film, this loss is the centre of a whole ritual; it shows the transition from life to death to the different generations of a family, it’s a source of knowledge. The elderly see it knowing that their own death is close to come; children can’t even imagine something like this can ever happen. The gaze that stares at this moment of pain and grief, becomes a source of knowledge, it’s the celebration of the fusion of life into death.