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