When 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival yanks open its doors at the heart of Washington DC in two days, Elkana Ong’esa, a renowned sculptor, will be leading the charge in Kenya’s efforts to conserve the African Elephant with a 12-tonne sculpture dubbed “Hands Off Our Elephants.”
Through the 12 feet high sculpture, Onge’sa hopes to bring to the attention of the over 1.5 million festival visitors the poaching menace in Kenya and the need for concerted efforts to curb illegal ivory trade.
The initiative comes against a background of the brutal killing of one of the world’s largest elephants, Satao, which brought to 97 the number of elephants killed in Kenya in the past one year. Satao is the latest elephant to fall victim of runaway poaching in Tsavo that is feeding a growing ivory in Europe and Asia.
The gigantic Satao lived in Tsavo East National park and was one of Tsavo’s most adored elephants, was famous as one of the last surviving great tuskers, bearers of genes that produce bull elephants with long tusks that touch the ground.
“This initiative was an onerous task as the initial sculpture curved from soapstone broke. We decided to use granite which is heavier but stronger. Initially, the sculpture weighed 22 tonnes and was meant to be shipped to Washington,” said Mr Onge’sa.
The sculpture which was transported by the Postal Corporation of Kenya (Posta) to Washington had to be chiseled at the centre to reduce the weight from 22 tonnes to 12 tonnes in order for the artistic piece to be airlifted to Washington DC in time for the festival.
Posta is registered as a clearing agent by Kenya Authority (KRA) and provides full logistics for customers that import items through Posta Parcel and EMS services. The corporation is transporting thousands of art pieces for the festival.
The project cost Ksh3 million and was sponsored by the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Arts. “The initial bidding prize for the sculpture is US$300,000 (Ksh26 million),” said Ong’esa. The renowned sculptor will be joined by David Coulson, founder of the Trust for African Rock Art for a conversation about rock art.
Ong’esa and Coulson will discuss “rock art as a window into the cultures and histories of vanished worlds and ask how to preserve this resource for future generations” during a lecture at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.
Ong’esa is an award winning prolific sculptor who has made many of the monumental stone sculptures found in public and private collections worldwide including a large piece at the entrance of the UNESCO building in Paris. He curved the magnificent masterpiece called “Dancing Birds,” which sits at UN Headquarters in New York and other the Coca Cola Olympics Museum in Atlanta, Georgia and the Caltex Oil company offices in Houston, Texas.
The annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival provides an opportunity for US citizens and the world to experience Kenya’s rich and diverse cultural and natural resources such as Kenyan art, crafts, music and other products. Kenya is the fifth African country and the first in East Africa to be featured at the festival.