The Roach Brooch- Daring to Wear Live Insect Jewellery

“Art is all a matter of personal taste.”

It is one of the few things upon which most art commentators can agree- the right to disagree.

We all have innate values of ‘taste’. It is the direction in which the nuts and bolts and cogs of thought churn in your mind in the first ten seconds you stand in front of an artwork. Call it the gut instinct if you will, it may on occasion be illogical, but it is always deeply felt and organically conjured- can rarely be argued into changing.

With that in mind, brace yourself for a very sticky subject on the matter of taste- the wearing of live cockroaches as jewellery, a trend still in practice in part of the world to this day.

Of course, when any animals are involved in art, it is not merely artistic and aesthetic taste which is an issue but a major concern is the ethical ‘taste’ of ‘judgement’ of the way in which they are handled.

Just how far is too far in art? And who is most being taken a hand out of- the beetle pinned to someone’s chest, or the wearer who forked out several hundred dollars for it?

The Maquech beetle is a large beetle typically three inches from tail to tip- about the size of your thumb.

Capturing Egyptian imaginations- the scarab beetle.

Capturing Egyptian imaginations- the scarab beetle.

Surprisingly, for a trend so bizarre and extravagant which one would think only Lady Gaga could have dreamt up , the wearing of insects has a rich history almost as fascinating as the creatures themselves and reaching all the way back to Egyptian times. Ancient Egyptians are believed to worn scarab beetles upon their garments not so much for ornamentation as lucky charms- believing that they would bring good luck in battle.

Ancient Mayan tradition also welcomed insects into their hearts and onto their chests. Their women believed the creatures were a charm capable of winning love from their romantic interests. This belief is said to have its roots in the Mayan myth has it that when a princess was forbidden from marrying her lover in a rival tribe, a magician took pity on her and transformed her into a bug which could be pinned to her lover’s chest- that she might always be next to his heart.

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The Egyptian use of the beetle in battle and the Mayan use of it in romance declined from daily life to mere myth thousands of years ago.

Until, that is, a rather peculiar fad grew in Mexico in 2008 for Maquech/ Makech beetles or ‘roach brooches’ as accessories.

Before-after

The fashion was for the beetles to be sprinkled in jewels and gems, attached to a two inch chain and through this leash pinned to the wearer’s chest. Thus, the roach had the freedom to roam its two inch chain around the wearer’s clothes but no further. The creatures could flit, hiss and squirm but no more. Despite the obscure and bizarre nature of ‘jewellery’, the client list from the roach brooch poachers has included Kim Kardashian (bastion of good taste and ethics), Uma Therman and one of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s children. So its perhaps not quite so obscure as you might think.

maquech

It is difficult, however, to view these ‘brooches’ as jewellery. Even when one takes the ethical issues out of the equation, the gem incrusted shells have, to my mind, all the aesthetic merit of teenage girls blinging their phone cases with diamantes. My UK readers will join with me reluctantly remembering to that other trend- vajazzles.

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And yet the fact that the roach brooch has continued to pop up in popular culture over the course of more than four millennia shows that it does have an undeniable appeal for some.

Perhaps it is the aesthetic contrast between that which is considered ugly by society (cockroaches) with the archetypal symbol of grace and beauty (diamonds) and its fusion, which pleases the eye.

Some, equally have spoken of an adrenaline rush whilst wearing their Maquech brooch as the animal brings with it a lively, unpredictable air of danger. The delicacy of the animal and the role the wearer assumes as adopted protector of the roach, perhaps brings a satisfying sense of power.

Personally, I can’t quite imagine ever being won round to the idea that roach brooches are beautiful objects. However, the point of Fawn Review is to delve into the ideas behind and history of beauty- not merely my gut reactions to things. Whilst I can appreciate to a certain extent the brooches’ appeal on a philosophical level, please, for the love of God, just don’t put one near me.

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