Apo Whang-Od on the cover of Vogue for April 2023.
PHOTO BY VOGUE
In a landmark first, a 106-year-old tattoo artist from the Philippines has appeared as the oldest cover model of Vogue.
Apo Whang-Od has been unveiled as the star of Vogue Philippines’ April issue, becoming the oldest person to ever grace the cover of Vogue.
Whang-Od, from the mountain village of Buscalan in the Kalinga province, is known as the Philippines’ oldest traditional tattoo artist or mambabatok. She uses a bamboo stick, a thorn from a pomelo tree, water and coal to create hand-tapped tattoos in traditional geometric designs.
Her clients make the long trek to her mountain village just to get her signature tattoos. Among her celebrity clients are Rhian Ramos, Sheryn Regis, Aiza Seguerra and Drew Arellano.
“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,” according to Vogue Philippines in a post on social media.
Vogue Philippines editor-in-chief Bea Valdes said the editorial team unanimously voted for Whang-Od to grace the cover of the magazine.
“We felt she represented our ideals of what is beautiful about our Filipino culture,” Valdes said, “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.”
Whang-Od was only 16 when she started her career as a tattooist, becoming the first and only mambabatok of her time. She was mentored by her father.
Now that she is 106, she is still practicing the art, but has also been training her grandnieces Grace Palicas and Elyang Wigan to become the next traditional tattoo masters. ICA/Expat Media
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