Vogue's new cover star is 106-year-old Filipino tattoo artist

Vogue’s oldest ever cover star! 106-year-old Filipino tattoo artist, who has been inking people with bamboo sticks since she was a teenager, fronts the magazine’s beauty issue

  • Apo Whang-Od, from Buscalan, has appeared on the cover of Vogue Philippines 
  • READ MORE: We’re tattoo artists and there’s an inking we NEVER recommend you have

A Filipino tattoo artist who has been carrying out the practice for more than nine decades has become Vogue’s new cover star at the age of 106.

Apo Whang-Od, also known as Maria Oggay, is a master at hand-tapping tattoos and has been perfecting the art since she was a teenager.

As she appears on the cover of Vogue Philippines, she has become the oldest ever star of the global fashion magazine, knocking off the previous title holder, then-85-year-old Dame Judi Dench.

The tattooist is from the mountain village of Buscalan, which is 15 hours north of the country’s capital Manila in the Kalinga province and is thought to be the country’s oldest traditional Kalinga tattooist – also known as a mambabatok.

She creates her designs using a bamboo stick, a thorn from a pomelo tree, water and coal.

Tattoo artist Apo Whang-Od, 106, has graced the cover of Vogue Philippines on its beauty issue, becoming the oldest ever cover star of the global fashion magazine

In a social media post, Vogue Philippines said: ‘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.’

The tattoos are dated back to the days of indigenous Butbut warriors, who earnt the inkings for service.

But now the centenarian artist attracts visitors from all around the world who seek out her geometric designs. 

As the art of creating the tattoos can only be passed down to blood relatives, Whang-Od is currently teaching the younger generation in her family how to practice the art.

The centenarian (pictured in 2012) is the oldest-known traditional Kalinga tattooist – also known as a mambabatok

The tattoo artist is herself inked all over in geometric patterns and has been practicing the art since she was a teenager

Whang-Od, who is also known as Maria Oggay, receives clients from all over the world who travel to be inked by her

The centenarian carries out the practice using bamboo sticks, tree thorns, water and coal and is currently teaching her grand-nieces the practice

For several years, she has been training her grand-nieces, Elyang Wigan and Grace Palicas.

In 2017, the tattooist told CNN travel: ‘(My friends who gave tattoos) have all passed away.’

‘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.’

She added: ‘The tradition will continue as long as people keep coming to get tattoos.’

Whang-Od continued that she would continue to give other people tattoos as long as her vision was clear.   

The editor-in-chief of Vogue Philippines, Bea Valdes, said it was a unanimous decision among staff at the publication to put Whang-Od on the cover.

She said the tattooist represented everything that was ‘beautiful’ about 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 said.

Following the publication of the cover, the Instagram account for the tattooist posted the photo with the caption: ‘Beauty embracing culture. Beauty transcending age. Beauty is not modern, it is timeless.’

In 2018, Apo Whang-Od appeared in Tatler Asia. Speaking to the publication at the time, Whang-Od’s grand-niece Elyang said: ‘My Apo is the strongest, bravest woman I’ve ever known. I’ve spent my whole life trying to be just like her. 

‘It’s like she’s the foundation of our whole community. We all know that when she dies, everything will change.’

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