106-year-old Filipino tattoo artist is oldest person on Vogue magazine cover
Apo Whang-Od, also known as Maria Oggay, is the oldest practitioner of the centuries-old batok tattooing technique, a hand-tapping method that uses a stick and thorn.
Vogue Philippines has featured Apo Whang-Od on the cover of its latest issue, making the 106-year-old tattoo artist the oldest person to grace the cover of Vogue.
Whang-Od – also known as Maria Oggay – is a mambabatok, or traditional indigenous tattoo artist, from the remote mountain village of Buscalan, about 15 hours north of capital city Manila, in Kalinga province.
She's the oldest practitioner of the centuries-old batok tattooing technique, a hand-tapping method that uses a stick and thorn.
“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 prilgrimage to Buscalan,” Vogue Philippines wrote on Instagram on Friday (Mar 31).
Before Whang-Od became the oldest person on a Vogue cover, Judi Dench had the honour. The actress appeared on the cover of British Vogue in 2020 when she was 85.
Whang-Od is also one of the few members of an indigenous community to make it to the cover of Vogue in any of its worldwide editions. Quannah Chasinghorse was on the cover of Vogue Mexico in May 2021 and Vogue Australia featured four indigenous women on its cover in May 2022.
Bea Valdes, editor-in-chief of Vogue Philippines, said that staff at the publication unanimously decided to put Whang-Od on the cover, reported CNN. "We felt she represented our ideals of what is beautiful about our Filipino culture,” said Valdes. "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."
The Vogue Philippines article describes how Whang-Od first learned the traditional tattooing method from her father when she was just 16 and how she was the first and only mambabatok of her time and would travel to villages near and far to tattoo the sacred symbols of the ancestors on those who have crossed or about to cross a threshold in their lives.
As mambabatok can only pass on their craft to their bloodlines and Whang-Od never had children of her own, her 10-year-old niece, Grace Palicas, was chosen to be her apprentice. The now 26-year-old Palicas and her 23-year-old cousin Elyan Wigan continue to ink the visitors who make the long journey to Buscalan for a traditional tattoo. The freshly-tattooed visitors then head to Whang-Od for the finishing touch – her signature sign-off of three dots.
Artu Nepomuceno, who photographed the magazine shoot, wrote on Instagram: "We celebrate this month with beauty. We celebrate the beauty of time, the beauty of family, the beauty of love, the beauty of our elders, and the beauty of being Filipino...Your celebration of this beautiful soul means more to me than I can ever grasp."