[Jakarta Post, October
24, 2004 ]
Yusra stays true to his color
Emmy Fitri, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
There are artists who feel they are commanders of the universe, the judge to put
matters in black or white through their works. With no such pretensions to knowing
what is best, artist Yusra Martunus would rather stay true to himself.
Some artists perform their own song and dance about the wrongdoings of the world
as others paint our shared sorrow and dark moments. Bronze, wood and fiber are
gracefully shaped as representation of protests -- against corruption, misdemeanors
Welcome to the world of contemporary fine art, where the onus on the artist is
to do the "right" thing by representing sociopolitical propaganda or
become the voice of peace. It does not count to be simply esthetic or honest in
Unpretentious to a fault, Yusra Martunus is not lured by the high-profile bandwagon
of contemporary issues. He simply creates what his eyes see.
Young and productive, Yusra has "calculated" how to conform to the demands
of the art market with his hard-to-sell kind of works.
"I also make paintings to make a living. We all know that sculptures are
hard to sell. Collectors will buy them if they really like the works," said
His recent works of aluminum shaped into forms of tetesan (drops) and lelehan
(trickles) are not intended to symbolize anything in particular. His most recent
exhibition was at the Audi Center in Central Jakarta, where he displayed two works
under the theme Spacious Territory.
His Tetes-Tetes Kerasan (Drops of Hardness), made of aluminum, shows drops of
water scattered under a displayed vehicle. The rainbow of colors illuminating
from the shiny surface of the drops makes them beautiful.
His other work, Kerasan Menyatu (unifying hardness), is the unity of firm natural
stone and melted aluminum.
"People may just interpret my works as anything they want. I know some people
say it represents how to make things possible. Hard and unbreakable metal can
be melted down and united with other substances, like water and natural stone.
It's up to them, for my concern is to make it happen with my imagination."
Yusra started working with aluminum in 2001, after previously using such materials
as cloth, twigs and fibers.
He finds enjoyment in the artistic process of creating objects that are esthetically
"I never call myself an artist, but I feel like one whenever I am in the
middle of working on my piece. The second I have an idea to make something and
then the ensuing process of making sketches, processing the material and refining
the piece are the moments I enjoy," Yusra said at the National Gallery in
Central Jakarta during one of his visits to the capital.
Art curator Rizki A. Zaelani said Yusra was a unique sculptor in that he always
tried to show the harmony in paradox; a physically hard and solid material is
presented in a fluid and soft shape.
"The basic idea of his works is more about his perception, sensitivity and
his abstract concept of nature," Rizki said.
"Through his works, Yusra reminds us to return to the fundamentals, our sensitivity
to appreciate the long forgotten quality of color and shape. Our perceptive senses
have been indulged by the flood of colorful consumptive products and goods."
A sculptor by training, the graduate of Yogyakarta's Indonesia Arts Institute
has gone through times where he has faced tough choices.
"I left all things related to creative thinking behind for almost a year.
I did that on purpose because I was not yet sure if I really wanted to be here,"
said the finalist of the 2004 Asean Art Award.
He worked with local youths in Yogyakarta, dedicating his time and mentoring them
on how to make handicrafts for souvenirs. With the business running well, Yusra
left it to others to handle because, "I cannot deal with routinity and the
A lanky, quiet figure, Yusra confessed that he was not a pleasant source for an
interview as he preferred listening to talking.
Growing up in the town of Bukittinggi, West Sumatra, the son of a bus driver and
a housewife, Yusra is the only one of his seven siblings to become an artist.
"I was pretty naughty when I was a boy. After finishing high school, I did
not want to continue my studies and instead spent too much time at the bus terminal
hanging out with thugs," he said with a laugh.
Living by himself in Yogyakarta and away from his family, Yusra has been forced
to see that life is a matter of making decisions -- he can be whatever he desires
because he decides to be that.
In Yogyakarta he met fellow ISI students from West Sumatra. He meets with them
in the Jendela art community where he can share and discuss many things with them.
The community holds an annual exhibition to showcase the members' works.
"But we are often criticized for being exclusive and detached from what's
going on in our society," Yusra said.
The group of young artists is known for focusing on their authenticity of ideas
and pursuit of perfection in processing material into artworks.
It is named jendela (meaning window in Indonesian) because a window opens on to
an outside view, and others can also see what's inside, but it's not a standard
entry point like a door.
"We are not a group of closed-minded artists. We know what's happening out
there but we can't force them into our works," Yusra said.
"I wish I could bring a big theme into my art but I can't."
Ultimately, he wants to show what "disturbs" him.
"Nothing bombastic or sensational, but what disturbs me sometimes are just
the beautiful rain drops or an idea to put metal drops inside a fridge, so people
can see that a fridge can melt down metal," he said.