Rogeam Rodrigues stands in front of his massive sand sculpture, his expression full of pride as tourists stop and pull out their cameras to snap a quick picture.
His sculpture of a giant castle, the Rio 2016 logo and the key tourist landmarks in the city is just one of many along the boardwalk on Copacabana Beach. Each is intricate, and it’s evident the creators spent many days working on them.
Rodrigues spent 20 days creating his sculpture, taking turns with friends to stay beside it at night to make sure no one destroyed it. He travels around the world to create these sculptures. Sometimes it’s for big events, and sometimes it’s just because he wants to.
“I decided to try every day to get better,” Rodrigues said through a translator. “I grew up in the favela, so I’m not afraid of anything … I had already been through the worst.”
When Rodrigues was young, a Columbian sand artist came to the favela to teach a group of kids about his work. The artist took a liking to Rodrigues and said he could have a future in sand art.
So he took him under his wing and taught him about the art, and Rodrigues is constantly pushing himself to improve because of that artist.
Through his work, he’s traveled to places he’d never thought he’d be able to reach. But he knows wherever he goes he’ll be welcomed.
“I bring happiness and beautiful art there,” Rodrigues said. “Everyone comes, they take pictures, film and make memories from it.”
At Copacabana Beach, that was certainly true. Tourists gathered around his art, posing with it to take photos, while Rodrigues stood close by, chatting with passersby.
Justin Joyce, a 24-year-old from Newcastle, United Kingdom, who came to volunteer at the Olympic sailing events, said the sand art was impressive.
“It’s so detailed and structured, it’s so well built,” Joyce said. “It’s like fine art drawn.”
Rodrigues’ creation is only made of sand and water, and every so often, he has to spray it with water to make sure it doesn’t crumble.
He’s proud of the work he does; he even keeps a portfolio of everything he’s ever built with him near the sculpture. He occasionally pulls it out to show interested tourists.
Rodrigues has worked since he was a child to better his skills so he could do what his parents couldn’t do for him: make sure his children have anything they could want.
With his sand art, he’s found stability and was able to buy a house instead of renting like he had always done in the favela.
“Now,” he said, “I have a great life because of the sand.”
Kara Berg is a Ball State University student and writer for BSU at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana, to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and BSU at the Games on Facebook.
Kara Berg is a senior journalism major at Ball State University, and has been obsessed with the Olympics ever since she can remember. She was a competitive swimmer for 12 years and loves the sport more than anything.