Khoëlie Thea Perera and the sacred art of tattooing
By Nethmie Dehigama
Looking for a tattooist with a distinctive style and character? You will not regret getting inked by the 25-year-old Khoëlie Thea Perera. Her artistry is infused with her passion and personality, and her spiritual take on tattoos gives you a whole new perspective on things. It was my pleasure to catch up with her, especially considering that I have been a long-time silent admirer of her work.
Q: How would you define yourself?
A: I think there are three things that define me as a person – art, my love for nature, and my fascination for spirituality/self-discovery. I grew up loving art and nature because my parents encouraged me to understand the importance of how both aspects can change someone to become more open-minded about the world in general. This is why at this point in time I absolutely love tattooing anything to do with plants and animals.
Q: Was tattooing something you always wanted to get into?
A: Tattooing wasn’t my first option when it came to building a career in art. Initially, I really wanted to pursue painting and sketching. Unfortunately, it takes many years to build a reputation in the industry. I thought graphic designing would be fun, but it wasn’t something that resonated with me. The idea of tattooing was very spontaneous, but it seemed like the next best option because I love being able to design my own tattoos – and getting them tattooed was honestly just quite therapeutic.
Q: What has the journey been like?
A: I’m not going to lie, I had to make a lot of sacrifices and there was a lot of uncertainty. Financially, it was also very straining in the beginning. My tattooing career started off in late 2019. I worked as an apprentice for Roanna Webster and then Kyle Valentine. I’m grateful to have learned so much from them and I’ve been able to sharpen the skill of tattooing over the course of two years. Roanna helped me kickstart my journey, teaching me patience, and helping me build a solid foundation and Kyle taught me all the fundamentals of art and tattooing, teaching me all his personal skills and techniques.
Q: You told us that you find a strong connection between spirituality and tattooing. Why do you say so?
A: The idea of putting something so permanent on someone’s body feels like a lot of responsibility. And being able to give that to someone feels very special to me because no matter how much they try to explain it to you, only they will truly understand the importance of the tattoo, whether it’s sentimental or ornamental. It can also represent a stamp in time; when they look back at when they got the tattoo, they can reflect on how much they have grown as a person and what they stood for in that period of time. When you end up with a tattoo that you love, it feels like you’re gifting yourself something so personal, like a conscious connection with your own spirit.
Q: Who are the tattoo artists you look up to and why?
A: I have so many but to name a few they would be Yogi (@__yogi__), Treubhan (@treubhan), T A E S I N (@taesin), Igor Maslennikov (@marlonb.tatts), and Helen (@helen_hitori). Sometimes, an artist is just born with the most perfect spatial intelligence, they don’t even have to try to make a tattoo design look good because they have deep trust in their own skills. You learn to build your patience and in turn that patience results in something truly spectacular when it comes to how neat a tattoo can be, along with having perfect composition. Other than that, I think the most important thing is how unique their art styles are. The effort that they put in to create a truly personalised design is really inspiring as an artist.
Q: How would you describe the tattoo industry in Sri Lanka?
A: It’s a fast-growing industry. There are so many underrated artists in the country including those who have been doing this for years. I encourage people to ‘collect’ tattoos from different artists because each tattooing experience can be different and interesting. To be honest, I like being under the radar because it gives me peace and lets me focus on the job at hand.
Q: What would you want a person getting a tattoo for the first time to know?
A: Wear appropriate clothing, something that makes it easy to access the area you plan to get your tattoo, and definitely not something that’s light in colour because tattoo ink might get on your clothes. Don’t drink alcohol before your session because it tends to thin the blood. Have a good hearty meal before coming to your appointment. Make sure that your tattoo idea isn’t too spontaneous. You don’t want to end up with a tattoo that you might regret in the future. When approaching your tattoo artist, share inspiring tattoo imagery. Use a ruler to know exactly how big or small you would like your tattoo to be. Always ask your artist if they’re willing to design something unique for you. In my opinion, it is better to have a tattoo that no one has than to have a tattoo that a lot of people have.
Q: What is your favourite tattoo that you’ve worked on to date?
A: It would probably be two pet portraits. It makes me feel overjoyed to immortalise a connection between an owner and their pet.
Q: What is happiness to you?
A: This question is quite funny to me because my happiness and beliefs are represented by my logo. To a lot of people, the symbolism of this logo seems contradictory to its name, but that is what it is, a ‘contradiction’. The blood flowing upwards symbolises the fact that we are spirits having a human experience, and that life is so much more than social constructs. The halo around the index finger is the disembodied representation of the awareness that our bodies are sacred vessels that we need to take care of. The dagger/phurba represents destroying the social ideologies conditioned in ourselves; what we see as negative is conditioned into us, hence why I wanted to incorporate the morbidity into the logo. The relaxed hand symbolises the surrender to energies that come and go; to have respect for the balance of positive and negative.
PHOTOS © YADUSHIKA R, KHOËLIE THEA PERERA