Those aren’t tears. You just have sand in your eyes. This is the concept behind Sand In Your Eye, a group of artists who craft memorable and heartbreaking portraits out of unconventional materials. They build enormous sand portraits, carve pumpkins and mold ice sculptures to depict the enormity of grief and the complexity of life.
One of the group’s most memorable pieces is “Loss Is Eternal.” In it, a woman made out of sand covers her mouth with a tissue. Her expression is forlorn and yearning. In her hand, she holds an ominous letter.
The sand sculpture captures the moment when a woman discovers her husband has died on the battlefield in WWII. The letter she receives says, “We regret to inform you your husband has been killed in action.”
The artists used more than 10 tons of sand create the sculpture, all of it packed by hand. They also struggled with the grieving woman’s facial expression, finding it more complicated than anyone initially imagined it would be.
As one artist, Jamie, said, “It is very challenging to make someone look like she is about to cry.” They knew they were finished when they felt that they were about to cry as they looked at her.
In the end, the piece took four days to complete.
It might seem easier to use a medium other than sand to make such a complex work of art. But the sculptors said the sand is an important part of the work. As the sand makes micro movements in the wind, the artists’ work comes alive. Suddenly, the sculpture’s facial muscles twitch. If you look closely, you can see grains of sand trickle from her eyes like real tears.
This sculpture is just one piece in a series, showing that grief is an eternal emotion. In the first rendering, the sculpture shows a grieving widow in her late 20s, just hearing the news of her husband’s death for the first time. In this version, the pain is still as fresh as her youthful face.
Over the course of the next two months, the artists slowly change the grieving widow’s face and hands to show her age. In the next version she is 55 years old, with some new wrinkles. And she is still grieving the loss of her husband decades ago.
The last sculpture in the series depicts the grieving woman in her late 80s. Although her wrinkles are now deep, she still remembers the loss as she approaches the end of her own life.
The artists unveiled this final edit on Remembrance Day, 2014. In describing the sculpture, they said it was important to them that the grieving woman looked as though she could be from any time or any country. They wanted to show the pain of losing someone in war, no matter which side of the battlefield the person was on when they died.
With “Loss is Eternal,” the Sand in Your Eye collective shows us that grief is not something we “get over.” It’s something that we learn to live with as time goes on. We cope, and we eventually move on with our lives. But the loss is still with us buried deep our minds. It changes us forever.