Vogue Philippines has revealed Apo Whang-Od as the cover star of its April issue, a move that makes the 106-year-old tattoo artist from the Philippines the oldest person ever to appear on the front of Vogue.
Whang-Od — also known as Maria Oggay — has been perfecting the art of hand-tapping tattoos since she was a teen, learning under her father’s instruction.
Residing in the mountain village of Buscalan, about 15 hours north of Manila, in Kalinga province, she is considered the country’s oldest mambabatok — or traditional Kalinga tattooist.
Once, the hand-tapped tattoos that Whang-Od creates using just a bamboo stick, a thorn from a pomelo tree, water and coal, were earned by indigenous Butbut warriors.
Now, international visitors seeking her signature geometric designs make up much of her clientele.
“Heralded as the last mambabatok of her generation, she has imprinted the symbols of the Kalinga tribe—signifying strength, bravery, and beauty—on the skin of thousands of people who have made the pilgrimage to Buscalan,” Vogue Philippines said in a post on social media.
The art can only be passed down to blood relatives, and Whang Od has been training her grandnieces Elyang Wigan and Grace Palicas for several years.
“(My friends who gave tattoos) have all passed away,” Whang Od told CNN Travel in 2017.
“I’m the only one left alive that’s still giving tattoos. But I’m not afraid that the tradition will end because (I’m training) the next tattoo masters.”
“The tradition will continue as long as people keep coming to get tattoos,” she added.
“As long as I can see well, I will keep giving tattoos. I’ll stop once my vision gets blurry.”
Vogue Philippines editor-in-chief Bea Valdes said staff at the publication decided unanimously that Whang-Od should go on the cover. “We felt she represented our ideals of what is beautiful about our Filipino culture.
“We believe that the concept of beauty needs to evolve, and include diverse and inclusive faces and forms. What we hope to speak about is the beauty of humanity,” Valdes added.
Prior to Whang-Od’s appearance in Vogue Philippines, the record for oldest Vogue cover model was held by actress Judi Dench, who appeared on the front of British Vogue in 2020, at the age of 85.
Kate Springer contributed reporting.