Michael Kaloki is Radio Netherlands Worldwide’s correspondent in Kenya. Next to being a journalist, he is alto a talented ice sculptor. Michael wrote the following report about his adventures at this year’s Helsinki Zoo International Ice Sculpture Competition.
By Michael Kaloki, Helsinki
“What do you mean by ice carving?” This is a question that I have been asked countless times by my colleagues, friends and relatives in Nairobi. It seems that the concept of carving ice is not understood by many of those I know.
One of my friends once asked me, “Can ice be carved?” One even said, “That is crazy!” The answer to that (the first question that is) is ‘yes’. There are sculptors in various European and North American countries who focus on bringing out their artistic visions by using ice as a medium.
This year, I am attending the Helsinki Zoo International Ice Sculpture Competition, in Finland. One question I am almost always asked at events is, “How did you get into ice carving, yet there is no ice in Kenya.” I would often reply by saying that ice is just like any other medium.
Although I would not attest to being a professional carver – in fact I would consider myself still a novice – I believe that ice should be understood as a medium of expression for a sculptor. While studying in Canada, I had the opportunity to visit the famous Quebec Winter Carnival, where I saw a number of magnificent ice and snow carvings.
Upon my return to Kenya, I decided to try and find out what carving ice and snow was all about. I found a local Kenyan artist who was also interested. We formed a team and began participating at a number of events.
But this year I travelled alone to the Helsinki Zoo International Ice Carving Competition. The organizers had arranged for me to join a Finnish ice carver to form a team. We are required to carve two sculptures during the four day event. First, we carved a spider web. Our next piece will depict a bee on a flower. I am the only African taking part in the event. The other competitors are from Europe, Asia and North America.
Although some might feel that ice is only for use in soft drinks, there is more to it than just being another name for frozen water. Ice enables you to stretch the limits of sculpting. Not many mediums provide the sculptor with an opportunity to use the weather as an assistant.
For example, one can fuse ice pieces together by using the cold weather as a sort of ‘gluing factor’. ‘Just add a bit of water’ as many recipes say, and voilà, you can sculpt a tree with branches. Or any other object.
Another interesting aspect of ice carving, is that in order to be successful in carving one’s piece, chances are that you have to endure freezing temperatures. Minus 15 degrees Celsius and below are temperatures that many ice carvers enjoy working in. After all, you do not want your work of art melting even before you are able to finish it.
However, working in such conditions often involves covering yourself in bulky winter clothing and sometimes enduring cold icy winds. While taking part in competitions, you have to sometimes look away from throngs of spectators who sip large cups of warm tea and coffee.
This situation is similar to working in the hot Kalahari Desert while talking to someone sipping a cold glass of milk. The temptation is to stop working and enjoy the milk too. However, at the end of it all, the harsh weather is but a mere small challenge in achieving the overall goal: a gracious piece of art.
I am fascinated by the way ice sculptures tend to bring out a blend of elegance and splendour. After, you have the opportunity to enjoy these works of art, albeit for a brief moment. They melt away and return to their original form: water. In turn, the water will one day freeze again and give a chance to another sculptor to show his or her skills.