Wooden dung-beetle-shaped box decorated with copper and brass and containing an ivory ball, a mirror, a small piece of black-ivory paint and a accordion fold book illustrating the ivory keys of a piano between boards decorated with a woodblock image on both the front and back covers.
Dungbeetle is a comment on trade in African elephant ivory which required an average of 500 tons per year between 1850 and 1910 to satisfy European public demand. From the onset of trade between Europe and Africa, elephant ivory was traded for brass and copper and for cloth from the Far East. While the traded cloth was used for ceremonial costume and clothing, the metal was used for bodily adornment, weapons and embellishment of masks and sculptures. Metal wire and cloth as exchange were, inter alia, instrumental in the annihilation of hundreds of thousand of elephants across Africa.
In nature, some scarabs (dung beetles) use the elephant's dung for sustenance and larval food. The scarab can also be considered analogous with the elephant, as both possess similar dochotomous qualities. The Scarabaeidae is a family of insects consisting of many serious horticultural pests as well as the highly beneficial dung beetle. The African elephant is a pestilential crop destroyer but also an indispensable perpetuator of biodiversity in African wild life areas such as game parks and reserves. Inside the scarab are four major commodities responsible for the wholesale slaughter of the elephants during the Victorian era: the billiard ball (the finest quality tusk would produce only four or five billiard balls of sufficient size and symmetry); the mirror, traditionally related to vanity and, by extension, ivory decorative accessories; a block of Ivory Black paint, a product of burnt ivory; and the profuse piano keys etched onto fine paper and presented as an accordion book (each piano utilised around 700 grams of processed ivory for the keys). The cover and black keys of the book appear as Java fabric decoration typical of trading cloth.