Thriv­ing on art

Artist Yuri Az­zari has autism and lim­ited speech, but his mother be­lieved in him and ac­tively nur­tured his cre­ativ­ity.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - By SHEELA CHAN­DRAN [email protected]­

FOUR of artist Yuri Az­zari’s art­works adorn Touch ‘n Go cards. One de­picts a mosque and an­other the veran­dah of a kam­pung house. The other two are ab­stract art­works, with bold strokes of colours.

Yuri has also col­lab­o­rated with lo­cal fit­ness ap­parel brand Fit Rebel; it has in­cor­po­rated two of Yuri’s art­work into its fit­ness work­out pants.

The recog­ni­tion of Yuri’s tal­ent means a lot to him and his fam­ily for it paves the way for the 28-year-old artist to be in­de­pen­dent.

Yuri has mod­er­ate autism, and art is a pow­er­ful medium of com­mu­ni­ca­tion for him.

“Since young, Yuri has al­ways been in­ter­ested in art. Be­sides paint­ing, he en­joys sketch­ing still life, build­ings and na­ture. Al­though he is un­able to com­mu­ni­cate much, I am happy Yuri has found a way to in­ter­act through his art­works,” says Yuri’s mother Dr Che An Ab­dul Ghani, 56.

Yuri was di­ag­nosed with autism at two years old.

Dr Che An sus­pected some­thing was amiss with her tod­dler son as he rarely made eye con­tact and had de­layed speech. She and her hus­band Yuri Za­harin took Yuri for test­ing, and the news that their son had autism al­tered the course of their lives for­ever.

“Like most par­ents, I was sur­prised to hear my el­dest child’s di­ag­no­sis. Once re­al­ity sunk in, I took it in my stride. My hus­band and I felt it was im­por­tant to help Yuri over­come his chal­lenges,” says Dr Che An, a se­nior lec­turer at Univer­siti Pu­tra Malaysia in Ser­dang, Se­lan­gor.

In 2010, she com­pleted her PhD in Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Dis­or­der, specif- ically in autism.

“I de­cided to pur­sue this sub­ject mat­ter for my doc­tor­ate be­cause Yuri is autis­tic. It is some­thing close to my heart and I wanted to learn more about so­cial com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, lan­guage im­pair­ment and speech sound dis­or­ders in chil­dren with autism.”

Al­though Yuri is a medium-func­tion­ing per­son with autism, his par­ents opted to bring him up as nor­mal as pos­si­ble. He went through the main­stream ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem right up to Form Five. For UPSR, he scored 6Ds and 1C. In PMR, he made his par­ents proud by scor­ing a B for his his­tory pa­per.

“While he strug­gled to com­mu­ni­cate, he man­aged to get along well with his peers. School taught him in­de­pen­dence and so­cial skills,” ex­plains Dr Che An, who also en­rolled Yuri for speech ther­apy, water ther­apy, art classes and oc­cu­pa­tional ther­apy to help him cope with and over­come his var­i­ous chal­lenges.

Ex­plor­ing Yuri’s tal­ent

Like all par­ents, Dr Che An wor­ried about Yuri’s fu­ture, and what he would do af­ter com­plet­ing his se­condary ed­u­ca­tion. The mother of five con­tem­plated vo­ca­tional train­ing for her son, specif­i­cally in bak­ing, laun­dry and house­keep­ing.

But she fol­lowed her in­stincts and de­cided to nur­ture Yuri’s in­cli­na­tion to­wards arts.

To in­crease her son’s in­de­pen­dence and to pro­vide him with artis­tic train­ing, she signed Yuri up for art lessons with artist Raja Azhar Idris in 2008. She hopes that some day Yuri would be able to earn an in­come through paint­ing.

“Hav­ing Raja Azhar as a teacher has been a bless­ing. Through art lessons, Yuri learnt how to im­prove his man­ual dex­ter­ity and co­or­di­na­tion, at­ten­tion span and self-ex­pres­sion. The lessons have also de­vel­oped in Yuri a sense of pride and ac­com­plish­ment in his art­works,” says Dr Che An.

Raja Azhar de­scribes Yuri as an in­tel­li­gent, lov­ing, tal­ented and creative stu­dent.

“He is very con­fi­dent with his lines and sketches. He can paint any sub­ject mat­ter. And his colour choices are be­yond my imag­i­na­tion.

“He is so brave and con­fi­dent with his colour choices,” says the award-win­ning artist who runs his work­shop in Bukit An­tara­bangsa, Kuala Lumpur.

Yuri’s range is wide – he does ab­stract paint­ing and also fig­u­ra­tive works. He paints na­ture as well as ar­chi­tec­ture.

Raja Azhar, who has six stu­dents with autism, ap­pre­ci­ates his spe­cial stu­dents’ unique per­spec­tives. He ob­serves that they are in­clined to­wards mu­sic and art.

“My spe­cial stu­dents are very smart and attentive. They have their own dis­tinct and spe­cial imag­i­na­tion. Take Yuri, for ex­am­ple. He loves mu­sic and art. His mu­si­cal knowl­edge is amaz­ing; he knows singers from yes­ter­year to the present,” says Raja Azhar, 68.

Photo: FAIHAN GHANI/The Star

Dr Che An and her hus­band have been Yuri’s pil­lar of strength, help­ing him over­come his chal­lenges. — Photos: FAIHAN GHANI/The Star

Yuri’s ab­stract art work, Flash Fire (left) and The Flam­ing Chill­ies are fea­tured on Touch ‘n Go pre-paid cards.

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