Meet Vogue's oldest cover model, a 106-year-old Filipino tattoo artist

Featured on magazine's April issue is Apo Whang-Od, also known as Maria Oggay

Entertainment Desk April 01, 2023

The April issue of Vogue Philippines features Apo Whang-Od, a 106-year-old traditional tattoo artist from the Philippines, on its cover, making her the oldest person ever to grace the cover of Vogue.

Whang-Od, also known as Maria Oggay, learned the art of hand-tapping tattoos from her father when she was young and is now considered the country's oldest mambabatok, or traditional Kalinga tattooist, reports CNN. Using only a bamboo stick, a pomelo tree thorn, water, and coal, she creates signature geometric designs on the skin of her clients, many of whom are international visitors seeking her expertise.

While the traditional Kalinga tattoos were once earned by indigenous Butbut warriors, Whang-Od imprinted the symbols of the Kalinga tribe on the skin of thousands of people who have made the pilgrimage to Buscalan, the mountain village in which she resides. She has been training her grandnieces Elyang Wigan and Grace Palicas to carry on the tradition, as the art can only be passed down to blood relatives.

Whang-Od stated that she is not afraid of the tradition ending, as long as people continue to come and get tattoos. And she plans to continue giving tattoos as long as she can see. "My friends who gave tattoos have all passed away," she told CNN Travel back 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."

Bea Valdes, Vogue Philippines editor-in-chief, explained that the staff unanimously decided that Whang-Od should be featured on the cover because she represents the beauty of Filipino culture and the concept of beauty needs to include diverse and inclusive faces and forms. “The concept of beauty needs to evolve. What we hope to speak about is the beauty of humanity," Valdes declared.

Previously, the oldest person to appear on the cover of Vogue was actress Judi Dench, who graced the front of British Vogue in 2020 at the age of 85. However, Apo Whang-Od's appearance on the cover of Vogue Philippines sets a new record for the oldest cover model ever.

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