CREATIVE & FASHION DIRECTION VOON WEI TEXT AND INTERVIEW AINA NUR SARAH PHOTOGRAPHY EDMUND LEE ART DIRECTION AND VIDEOGRAPHY MILS GAN STYLING VOON WEI ASSISTED BY LIM LEE ANN GROOMING DANNY SEE
The world’s perspective of beauty has changed, we now bask in the beauty of imperfections and differences. What started out as a favour turned into a side gig for Azfar Firdaus, our country’s first Albino model. He’s a PhD student who juggles his studies and modelling, which is no easy feat, but he does it to shed light on albinism and how they live. Growing up, nobody treated Azfar differently — not his family nor his friends. It was self-realisation for Azfar, and coming to terms with his condition was hard. But soon enough he found the silver-lining and changed his perspective.
Azfar is determined to let people know more about albinism through modelling, so that those with the same condition can go out there and be themselves — feeling empowered, free and celebrating their differences. We had the opportunity to sit down with the talented and inspiring Azfar as he opens up about albinism, how he copes with it, his journey to becoming a model, rising from rebellion and what he thinks about beauty.
Can you tell me how you got into modelling?
Well, for me it started out as sort of a charity thing. I have this one friend who was running a modelling programme for disabled kids, so he approached and said “Hey you’re unique, why don’t you put yourself forward so that we can move forward as a brand?”, and that’s when I decided to just go for it, that it’s a good thing to have that sort of exposure and also to expose lives of the disabled to the world.
Have you ever thought of doing it permanently/professionally?
For now, personally for me, I like to do it as a part time thing. Because I don’t like the whole idea of putting too much pressure on how I look or how I dress. Cause I like doing it, but for fun.
Do you have any current fashion obsessions?
Um, current fashion obsessions… Well, y’know the new Detective Pikachu movie? I like how they dressed like Pokémon trainers; all dressed in oversized hoodies and leggings.
What are some closet essentials that you have to have?
I’m a very basic guy — very minimalistic. So it has to be white and black tees, and skinny jeans. I also never grew out of that emo phase, so a lot of my clothes are like super-gothic in a way.
Any fashion item you really cherish?
There’s a pair of pants that has all these straps — like zips and flaps all over the pants. It looks really unique.
So let’s talk about albinism, how young were you when you had it/figured out you had it? Were you born with it?
Albinism is basically something you’re born with. It’s a genetic condition where someone is born without skin colour or pigments, so it affects the skin, hair and eyes. I have really bad eyesight to the point where I’m legally blind; I even have an OKU (orang kurang upaya, people with disabilities) card for it. But hey, I still rock it y’know. I realised I was different, ironically, when I was 12. My family and friends in school never treated me differently. One day I looked in the mirror and was like “Why do I always get stares from strangers whenever I’m outside?” I looked at myself and realised I’m white — like white white. And that’s when the whole idea struck me.
So the process of finding out that you were different was not from anyone else?
No it was from self-realisation, that’s when I went through the whole struggle of finding myself.
Can you tell us a bit about your struggles?
During my teenage years, there was a lot of rebellion and self-hatred. I didn’t want to be different. Being albino, I can’t be exposed to the sun — I can’t hang out with friends or go outside most of the time. It then came to a point where it became so toxic that I said to myself, “How long are you going to keep this up? How long are you gonna wallow in things that you can’t change?” It was then when I decided that it’s time I embrace it and just rock it.
Is there a story behind “That one imaginary albinic creature”?
I really like exposing myself to creative mediums like drawing and writing poetry. I just like the whole idea of not just being the albino guy, but also being known as an artist in a way.
What are you most proud of, at this point in life?
I’m most proud of the presence that I have around other people, especially on social media. Ever since I started modelling, more and more people have approached me saying that they know other people who have albinism too, and there were a few albinos who reached out to me, saying they never knew they could do these sorts of things. That gave me a sort of hope that maybe what I’m doing is something that’s really good. Sometimes my friends ask if I’m annoyed by it, but to me, people ask because they’re genuinely curious.
Have you ever felt like not wanting to answer?
No, and that’s also one of the reasons why I’m doing modelling. I want people to know what albinism is, and how the entire thing works so that others with albinism can go out there and just be themselves, without having the need to explain.
Has albinism affected the way you live?
I wouldn’t say it affected me that much because I grew really accustomed to it. But one positive thing it has done is that it helped me open up my eyes to the different types of people out there. So I became really inquisitive and wanted to see what other conditions people are living with.
If you could change the world, what would you want to change and why?
I wouldn’t say that I want the world to change in general. But, one thing that I would like people to do, is to be more expressive of themselves. Just live your life, be who you want to be, and just pursue whatever that makes you happy. As long it’s not something that’s detrimental to other people.
How do you define beauty?
Beauty to me is very subjective, but also very objective at the same time. It is objective in a sense that we want to feel beautiful and want people to acknowledge that. It is also subjective because beauty is something that can’t be defined and doesn’t come in any specific shape or form. It’s something that everyone has to find in themselves — it’s in the way they express and carry themselves. And if other people define that as beauty as well, then you’ve achieved your objective.