Vogue PH’s April issue highlights Filipino tattoo artist Apo Whang-Od and the craft of the highlands. Here is why it matters, especially today
This April, Vogue Philippines takes beauty into its print and digital pages through stories of art on skin. Tattooing, to be more precise. While Apo Whang-Od, or Maria Oggay, is clearly the top choice for this issue, the reality of her identity and art form as the cover story came as a shock—albeit a good one at that—to both local and international readers.
Breaking today’s dimension
As of writing, the cover has reached almost 300,000 likes on Instagram alone. On Facebook, it has garnered 200,000 likes and 73,000 shares. Known names in fashion and media like Naomi Campbell, Gigi Hadid, and Kourtney Kardashian have shared Vogue Philippines’ Instagram cover post. Even fashion-slash-lifestyle-and-culture collective Diet Prada dedicated a post on the bravery of the publication to feature such an important figure in the history and culture of the Philippines—and now, the whole world.
Meanwhile, Filipino figures like Vogue PH’s December 2022 – January 2023 cover girl Anne Curtis expressed her delight on the fact that Apo Whang-Od, who is the oldest cover model of any Vogue title at 106 years old, has been featured on such a prestigious international publication. Bretman Rock, their first Mystery Dinner guest, also commented on both the magazine’s and Diet Prada’s posts. Collectively, the estimated number of 4,000 comments on Instagram are mostly messages of solidarity and gratitude for finally headlining a perhaps more relatable and perceivable visage of a Filipino.
Going beyond the pages
While the cover reads “Next of Skin,” emphasizing interpretations of beauty in which Apo Whang-Od’s story weaves into, hers is not merely about the outward definition of the concept. Just as the feature explained, the tattoos were symbols of their earthly life’s meaning, purpose, and devotion—ideals that they can bring after their last breath.
Beyond mere appreciation of beauty and its display on the skin through tattoos, the oldest mambabatok’s story and her craft is more than just that. Although the communities in present time display colonial touches in architecture and means of living, Apo Whang-Od’s artistry still runs deep, long before the blood of the Westerners reached our seas. It is the story of not just her bloodline and race, but also of ours.
In the cover story, the tribe’s tradition is reiterated—Apo Whang-Od’s specialty is only to be passed on to blood-related generations in the future. Today, her grandnieces Grace Palicas and Elyang Wigan are already responsible for continuing their mentor’s legacy. There lies the real beauty of the Filipino family, wherein practices and stories are passed down to next in line—an honor and a duty to fulfill.
But to those whose skins have had the privilege of being marked by Apo Whang-Od, and to those who have read this and Vogue Philippines’ stories on Kalinga’s rich tattoo culture, we now hold a certain responsibility, too—that is to understand our history and make the world know that while Filipino talent can reach different seas, there’s no place like home when we are in search of real, indelible beauty.
Photos from VOGUE PHILIPPINES
Photography ARTU NEPOMUCENO
Head on over to https://vogue.ph/magazine/apo-whang-od/ for the full Apo Whang-Od cover story.