Editor’s Note: The following is a review by Merced resident Samuel Randolph of the premier showings of the film “El Ojo Comienza En La Mano” (“The Eye Begins in the Hand”) which was filmed locally. The two premier showings of the 15-minute long film were followed by on-stage appearances of the artist and director in conversation. The first showing was held at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center on Aug. 26. Second showing was at the Kreepy Kawaii gallery on Sept. 16.
The heart of left-handed artist Ruben Sanchez is best understood in the luminous art and murals he has produced as a member of the campesino culture of the Central Valley. The body of artwork by Sanchez captured the eye and then heart of international filmmaker Yehuda Sharim, a professor in the Global Arts Studies Program at UC Merced who directed “El Ojo.” Yehuda studied more than 100 pieces of art produced by Ruben — an experience that cemented their friendship and inspired the film.
The screenings were followed by engaging conversations between the director and artist. The conversations were integral to appreciating the glorious artwork featured in the film as well as Ruben’s history and Yehuda’s perspectives. Both men spoke about the deep bond that formed between them as they first met and talked about their fathers. Critical to understanding the creative process that drives Yehuda’s work is his family’s history of emigration from Iran to Israel where his father also earned his living as a field worker. Yehuda stated that his artist’s eye was focused on his father’s hands, not his face. Ruben’s art also takes an expansive view of the hands, which he portrays as larger-than-life.The discussion of hands played a surprisingly large part in the art, film and conversations.
In my mind, the story of hands highlighted in the film’s title evoked the oppression of left-handed children that continues to this day locally and globally. The tragedy of left-handed children forced to become right-handed to satisfy unchallenged cultural bias against the left-handed, feeds the ranks of a sub-culture that continues to exist largely unnoticed. Ruben stands out in my own growing up-memories of Merced, memories in which he and I were “fellow travelers separated by one grade level in our own story of handedness” at John Muir Elementary School. Our history set in the early 1960s was a time when left-handed students like Ruben (or reversed lefty’s like me “submergees”) were truly a hidden minority. Ruben’s own account of growing up was regularly hearing “El otro mano!” (“Your other hand!”) which he had to resist. Grade school counselors at City of Merced schools have stated that the trauma of forced handedness reversals of students still impacts many, who pay a significant price – suffering and struggling academically and emotionally. They reported that the issue is especially problematic in the Hispanic and Hmong cultures they serve. Many areas of the Middle East, where Yehuda grew up are among the worst zones in the world to be born left-handed.
Seen as a complete presentation, “El Ojo” builds a much-needed bridge showcasing the life and work of a left-handed artist and philosopher which integrates his life-story into a framework that encompasses local, international and spiritual themes. “El Ojo” sets the gem of Ruben Sanchez and his life’s work nicely into its perfect setting, Merced and the Central Valley of California.
Bravo on the decision to premiere the film in his hometown where the light of Ruben’s art and philosophy sparkles and shines. The film’s producer Elizabeth Lopez stated that there will be another showing of “El Ojo Comienza En La Mano” at the Mainzer Theater on Nov. 1 (time to be announced). You can see the film’s trailer under the Spanish title or visit the website, sharim-studio.com. This film elegantly shares the story of a world-class local talent revealed in local colors and themes that you don’t want to miss.