Sri Lankan artist wins first prize in Toronto ice carving competition

Sri Lankan artist wins first prize in Toronto ice carving competition


Nandasiri and his award-winning ice carving with Sri Lankan motifs

Sri Lankan ice carver Nandasiri Meegoda won the first prize of the Bloor Yorkville Ice Fest last month, beating 12 other Canadian competitors in Toronto.

Nandasiri who saw real ice and snow for the first time in his life after migrating to Canada in 2012 won his first-ever ice carving honours by grabbing the third prize, also at the Bloor Yorkville Fest, in 2013. Three years later he won the first place in the same contest adding to his trove of trophies that include three first place finishes at the Peterborough Polar Bear Ice Competition in addition to half a dozen second and third places in other contests in various parts of the country.

Asked what differentiated him from the other Canadian competitors at the Yorkville Festival, he says he believes the secret is his creativity which he combines with proper planning and also the unique traditional Sri Lankan native designs he used to beatify his creations.

“Before I begin carving I pay special attention to the prevailing weather conditions,” says the 58-year-old, who depends largely on his unerring eyes and accuracy of his arms while wielding his five-pound electrical drill to create masterpieces in ice. “I take special care to place my pieces angled according to the behaviour of the sun because light is a major factor to project the fantasies of ice artworks in an effective way. I didn’t learn it anywhere, and it is a technique I discovered on my own.”

Another secret of his ice arts is his use of traditional Sri Lankan designs for his creations. For example, his exhibit in February has native Sri Lankan decorative motifs, known as ‘liyawel’ in Sinhalese, portrayed in ancient temple carvings. “Other competitors use symbols like lines and circles to embellish their work but when people see my creations they find something really unique and different, though many of them know little about our traditional arts”, he tells in an exclusive interview. The theme for this year’s festival, organized to raise funds for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, was Medieval Art. Nandasiri created a knight on horseback borrowing from his native country’s popular ancient designs decorating his award-winning carving. “Fine art has no geographical boundaries and it is even more eye-catching when the art of east and west are fused,” he says.

Nandasiri who has not learnt art formally in school believes he has acquired the skill from his birth. As a kid he watched how village artisans created decorations for festivals and other local events in Meegoda where he was born. As a boy of eight he watched an artiste creating a traditional wedding dais for a relative’s wedding. When his sister got married a few years later he created an exact replica of the dais adding his own innovations, becoming something like a village celebrity. From that day onwards he was in high demand in his native village to paint at temple festivals, to decorate weddings and also to paint pictures and banners at funerals.

After leaving school he joined an advertising company and a few years later decided to launch his own graphic design company and in a short time became one of the most sought after designers in the country. He designed  advertisements, billboards for films and commercial products, television and print advertisement, at the same time pursuing his passion for painting in oil, acrylic and water colours. He is also an excellent sculptor adept at handling creations in clay, plastic, fiber and cement. Nanadasiri is a well known fruit carver in Toronto.

He is the first artist in Sri Lanka to change the way screen printing was done. “Earlier, many people used to limit it to one sheet but I discovered a method to print a bigger design on four different sheets and combine them for larger billboards,” he said.

Nandasiri has also mastered the use of Adobe Suite software and animation. A fact many may not be aware is that he has written lyrics for about 20 songs which are being played on Sri Lankan radio stations and available on Youtube. Nandasiri says he came to Canada mainly to avoid unhealthy political atmosphere in Sri Lanka and also for the benefit of his two children. His eldest son is studying at the University of Waterloo and daughter is studying arts, following in the footsteps of her dad.

“Relocating to Canada made me confront lot of problems initially. I was unable to build a proper portfolio of my work acceptable in Canada and also my English needed improvements,” he said.

He had been looking for jobs but there had been many setbacks. Nandasiri started doing odd jobs here and there and developed an interest in ice carving. One day he walked into a company, met the owner and inquired whether there were openings for artists. The owner politely said that there were no openings. Then he sat at the owner’s table and sketched his face. The owner was impressed with what he did, called his chief ice carver asking him whether he had any job for Nanadasiri. Though there were no opportunities the company hired him on a temporary basis to work only when there was work.

“I am still grateful to the chief ice carver of Iceboy company, Frederick Marquita, a Filipino-Canadian. He is the person who taught me the art of creating magic from blocks of ice. I took part in carving competition of Bloor Yorkville annual ice festival in the same year. Frederick came first in the contest while I won the third place.” In this year’s competition which was held on February 24 and 25 Nandasiri won the first prize.

He says ice is closely connected to the culture of Canada and every year he is invited to demonstrate ice carving in cultural festivals in distant villages. Some of the areas he has covered include Thunder Bay, Kawathra, Niagara, Peterborough and Barrie.

At the moment he is getting ready to hold his first one-man painting exhibition in Toronto. – Somasiri Munasinghe



Masterpieces in Ice: Left: Nandasiri’s creation to mark Canada’s 200th birthday. Centre: A dais for Katina (Rainy Season Retreat) festival created at Scarborough Buddhist temple last year in the shape of an ancient pagoda. Right: Ice elephant is embellished with Sri Lankan motifs.

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