Taking one step into Xia’s work space makes one thing very apparent—you're in the presence of someone who loves bats. This artist doesn't just love bats from afar, she spends her days off taking care of orphaned or injured chiroptera.
Xia, also known as Alicia Fernandez, is a tattoo artist in Australia who works at Raven's Hollow in Melbourne and Harpoon & Highwater and Valley Ink in Brisbane. "When I came to Australia, I worked in a walk-in shop in a small town,” Xia says. “The studio was right in front of a bat colony and I instantly fell in love. I couldn’t believe how big they were—and chatty! I used to wait until sunset to watch them all flying away, and that was my comfort time."
Xia's love for animals came far before her move to Australia, as she spent most of her time as a child in Spain rescuing animals of all sorts. Then, after spending nine years trying to break into the tattooing world while in college, Xia was finally given an apprenticeship in South Korea. It would be her move to Australia that would truly ignite her tattoo career.
"One day I saw a lady walking around with a baby bat wrapped like a little burrito and of course I had to go and ask questions!” Xia explains. “She told me that she was a carer and that I could look after baby bats as well, and since back then I was really unmotivated and feeling a bit depressed, I thought this could be something to do for others that would make me feel needed. And I wasn’t wrong! I went through training, vaccinations and licenses and then I was ready to take my first orphans."
It wasn’t long before she had her first opportunity to put that training into action. "My first baby bat was a baby fruit bat named Chup (that was the little sound he would make when drinking milk) and I can’t explain with words how I felt when I saw his little face for the first time,” Xia says.“Baby fruit bats have very different personalities and I was lucky to look after such a gentle one for my first rescue. Bats are very hierarchical creatures and this one was a bit bullied by other bats as a baby, so when he was with me, all he wanted was cuddles and pats."
Eventually, Xia's love for bats began to coincide with her love for tattoos and art. Xia shared, "The first bat I designed in my style was in 2017, when I was going through a transition stage. I was tattooing all these things that people expected of me as a female: florals, cute stuff, fine line. One year, I decided that this wasn’t what I loved. And that’s when I drew my first bat.
It took me a while until someone grabbed the design. In Northern Australia a lot of people are not massive bat fans (they're called flying rats) but when someone did (grab it), I was really happy and honestly, I remember enjoying that tattoo from start to finish."
Not everybody loves bats as much as Xia, some of her customers are pretty outspoken about their distaste for the creatures, so she spends a lot of her time trying to educate those around her. "Bats face a lot of discrimination as people are completely unaware that they are the main pollinators together with bees here in Australia,” Xia says. “When I lived in northern Australia, I had a client who hates bats with a passion. She told me that hundreds of them would choose a tree and ruin it (I have no clue how they can ruin a tree). I explained how bats are the ones who help new trees grow, and how there are no species that cut, burn and destroy trees—other than human beings. She still hates bats, but I won’t discriminate against her the way she discriminates against the bats, it’s just ignorance."
This empathy and passion for constant education is what Xia says is the most important aspect in both of her careers, "I take so much time on my designs and tattoo prep outside of work—I try to push my limits and learn with every tattoo—and I [also] do that with the bats. Those little devils eat every four hours when they are little babies, and I am always reading books or articles about them to make sure I become a better carer."
Xia isn't planning on stopping her tattooing or care for animals in the new year, she’s going full steam ahead.he now cares for opossums as well, and she has a bunch of new projects coming up in 2020. "I am really excited for 2020,” Xia exclaims.“I'm now organizing a few trips to the US/Europe and I'm focusing on larger pieces, paying special attention to composition and placement on the body. I'm working on a few back pieces at the moment."