Sunday brunch with model Josh Kua and his journey into the global limelight

Published December 6, 2020, 10:07 AM

by Jerico Villamonte

“A law student who needed more” and so he became more. Meet Josh Kua—international violinist, composer, model, and self-confessed cat lover. He’s graced glossy pages of international magazines and starred in ad campaigns. His passion for music has taken him far and wide, from Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Taiwan, and China.

We caught up with the multitalented artist about playing the violin, his soaring modeling career, his thoughts on the showbiz industry, grooming, to where his head is at right now in time of pandemic.

There’s more to this Malaysian-Chinese looker than meets the eye.

How did you discover your love for the violin?

I was fortunate to receive music tuition from a young age, and unlike sports, I definitely took well to it and showed some interest and enjoyment in music. According to my mum, toddler me had seen a violinist performing on television with an orchestra and decided I wanted to do that too. I started learning violin at the age of four, and the rest is history.

What is the greatest thing that music has taught you?

Music has taught me to trust my feelings and intuition on stage and, to express myself in a free, unabashed manner. As a fairly quiet and controlled person, letting everything go on stage is empowering and invigorating. Music has taught me that there are no right or wrong answers. It is the element I feel the most comfortable losing my inhibitions in.

How were you discovered as a model?

My first modeling opportunity surprised me in the form of a casting for a commercial for an Asian market in 2010, during my university days. I had just been a photography subject for an amateur photographer friend of mine, so I had a few studio pictures, which he encouraged me to put on Model Mayhem, an online creative portal.

A couple of months later, I received a message from a casting agent to attend a casting (I had to look up the word) for a Carlsberg commercial shooting in Australia, and I booked the job! I was extremely surprised as I had no knowledge or experience in the industry and had also never imagined I’d ever be paid to do a job like this.

What’s your proudest moment as a model? Can you share some insights about where the industry is at now? 

Apart from the magazine covers I’ve been so fortunate to be featured in, one of the highlights earlier in my career was booking a Nivea Men campaign for Thailand in 2014, which is a big deal there. I had minimal modelling experience at the time (I was still living in Melbourne and completing my degrees at university), and was really surprised because most of the models Nivea had booked previously as the Nivea Man were Caucasian or Caucasian-mixed Asians. As an Asian model, I had been told in the past by Asian agents that pretty much all better jobs were reserved for “Pan-Asians” only, i.e. Caucasian-Asian mixed ethnicity.

As a member of the entertainment, fashion, and modelling industries, I think it’s important to talk about the overt racial biases present in Asia, particularly towards “Whiteness” in general, and specifically towards those of Caucasian or Caucasian-mixed descent, as well as East Asian ethnicity and color (both of which I benefit from). These groups, as well as lighter-skinned Asians, are idolized and preferred over other Asians or darker races. These privileged groups of people are disproportionately represented across our industries; just take a glance out the window and at our media, and notice the ethnicities of your celebrities and fashion/commercial models.

I also attribute much of my early success as a performer and model to my East Asian looks. I believe the less-biased way forward explicitly addresses the racial supremacy present in modelling, and takes active steps to give more opportunities to darker-skinned models/talents with non-Eurocentric features. Equality doesn’t look like the representation and preferences we see now.

If you’re not modeling or playing the violin, what would you be doing?

Probably obsessing over my cats. I don’t know what happened, but somewhere along the way I was infected with that disease which makes humans literally obsessed with cats (it’s a thing), and I became a crazy cat lady. I have three cats now, though I’m separated from two of them due to Covid-19, who are in Malaysia, my current base city.

I also enjoy learning new things, pondering philosophy, marveling at science, and a good laugh. I enjoy quality conversation, usually over good coffee, cats, and in quieter environments. I value authenticity and honesty, so cursory small talk usually drains me. I try to avoid crowds as much as possible.

How would you describe your style?

I would say my style is on the minimal side; I’ve always preferred color blocking and more neutral, earthy tones. While my clothing items tend to be more plain, it’s the detailing and textures which really speak to me.

Can you share us your grooming routine?

My daily skincare routine is fairly simple. I use a non-drying cleanser to cleanse my skin, and moisturize. I choose a lighter moisturizer in the morning/more humid weather, and a heavier, creamer moisturizer before bed/colder and dryer weather.

I used to struggle with frequent breakouts but noticed a huge improvement when I stopped drinking milk; I realized recently that I’ve always been lactose sensitive! If you have a persistent acne problem, it might we worth assessing your diet and possible intolerances!

What are your grooming essentials, and what’s the one item in your Dopp kit that you swear by?

Hair-wise, I like to alternate conditioner with argan oil to make sure my hair is smooth and moisturized. In terms of styling, it really depends on what look I’m going for, but for someone with straight Asian hair, I believe it’s essential to have a strong styling wax/clay and hairspray at all times to achieve a look that stays all day, especially in humid climates. If I need to get ready for stage by myself, some basic makeup is important – concealer for those persistent eyebags are your best friend!

How do you keep fit? What exercises do you do while on quarantine?

Prior to Covid-19, I used to do weight training almost daily, which forms most of my physical exercise. I don’t do much cardio as I am naturally skinny, and the consistent weight training helps with my fitness. Now that I’m (still) stuck in lockdown, I do mostly body weight stuff like push-up, but also have a pull-up bar and dumbbells to perform other exercises. As my goals are usually to maintain my lean physique but also build muscle, I am focusing more on increasing my reps to failure as the weights are much lighter without access to a gym.

In view of the pandemic, what has changed for you, work and lifestyle-wise?

Performing the violin at exclusive events has been my main income for years, so with events pretty much dead and not being able to travel, I’ve had more time to focus on making more content. It’ll be interesting to see how the industry eventually bounces back (if ever) and how we’ll need to adapt to it.

Lifestyle-wise, it hasn’t been too huge an adjustment as I’m okay spending lots of time at home. However, I have had to shift more focus onto doing things alone, like shooting violin vidoes in a simple way, instead of the full production I’m used to.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned during this pandemic, and how are you able to apply it in your daily life?

I’ve been trying to be more conscious about exercising mindfulness, as my state of mind is pretty much the one thing I will almost always have control of. When situations seem overwhelming and hopeless, it’s easy to lose mental control and spiral into bad habits. I find it extremely helpful to identify the feelings I’m experiencing and then disallow all those things beyond my control or boundaries to affect my mind-space in a negative or encroaching way.

I also think it’s important to understand how satisfaction works, and how gratitude is important to maintaining a healthy mental outlook. Many of us are taught by society to idolize career and monetary success, but with each goal I have accomplished, the satisfaction is so fleeting and rarely lasts before I’m lusting after the next accomplishment. Research shows that once a human’s basic needs are met, any add-ons in material possessions do not increase happiness. I’m learning to disconnect my happiness from material success (as I don’t ultimately value that) and letting those goals be just what they are, goals. Instead, I choose to focus on allowing things that bring me lasting joy affect me, like art, relationships, experiences, human progress, and cats.

Get to know more about Josh Kua on his website.

Image source: Josh Kua’s Instagram