[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 or injustice.

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 one's works.

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 Yusra.

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 pleasing.

"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 mass production".

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.