When one thinks of maggots – the word “art“ does not typically come to mind. But for Rebeccah O‘Flaherty, a UC Davis Ph.D. candidate, maggots and art go hand in hand.
Started in the University of Hawaii in 2001 by O‘Flaherty, maggot art has been exhibited three times since its conception, including at UC Davis‘ very own Picnic Day 2009.
Because maggots feed on decaying corpses, they are usually used in crime scenes. Forensic entomology is the study which, in part, uses insects to find out how long the person has been dead.
O‘Flaherty, however, decided to use them in artwork.
Working with maggots throughout her masters program in Hawaii, she decided to combine her love for her work with the different children‘s outreach programs she was involved in at the time.
“I think people are often turned off by maggots, but if you take out the disgusting factor, it‘s interesting and goes a long way in educating [the children],“ O‘ Flaherty said.
O‘Flaherty travels to different schools throughout Northern California to teach preschool and elementary age children about maggots and use their love for art to overcome any negative misconceptions about maggots that they may have.
But children aren‘t the only ones learning about maggots.
O‘Flaherty also teaches a homicide investigation class at a police academy where she shows officers how to use maggots in their work. She also goes to kids‘ and adults‘ birthday parties in order to better educate the public.
She said that the artwork produced by the creatures is generally kept for fun or decoration, although she has showcased her work in various art shows in the recent years.
“I had one at Mishka‘s [Café] in Davis and then one at the Capital Athletic Club where we actually sold some pieces,“ O‘Flaherty said. “And the funds go right back to the maggots.“
Before last year, O‘Flaherty didn‘t charge any fees for attending birthday parties or school visits. She now charges a materials fee for events with her maggots because she could not afford to keep things free.
Charlotte Wacker, director of the UC Davis Body Donation Program, took a class at UCD and was introduced to O‘Flaherty in 2003. Wacker volunteered for her at this year‘s Picnic Day and other teaching events.
“I thought the program was great; not only fun but engaging for the participants who would usually shy away from these things that are dirty and disgusting and feed on dead things,“ Wacker said. “I think the experience is much more fun than dumpster diving.“
Currently, Wacker still actively sells artwork to fund the project and donates a painting or two to UCD that are then auctioned off every January. The proceeds help fund the nine medical clinics run by medical students, such as the Willow Project, and the Imani Clinic.
Forensic Anthropologist Turhon Murad from Chico State University said that he truly admires O‘Flaherty‘s work as a researcher. He bought a piece of maggot art called “Sorority Rush“ over two years ago at a show in Sacramento.
“My wife and I bought a piece, in support of Rebeccah [O‘Flaherty], and these little drawings done appealed to us,“ Murad said. “‘Sorority Rush‘ reminded us of college and what Rush was actually like; the maggots converged on one point, but in fact they‘re actually moving away. You just have to know how they move.“
For more information on maggot art, visit maggotart.com.
DINA MORCOS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.