Tate Liverpool has formally taken on custodianship of an installation, in an agreement with the artist inspired by Mayan custom.

The artwork is titled ‘‘Ru k’ox k’ob’el jun ojer etemab’el’ (The Echo of an Ancient Form of Knowledge’) by Maya-Kaqchikel artist Edgar Calel.

Rather than owning the work outright, Tate created the model of custodianship with the artist, alongside Guatemalan contemporary art platform Proyectos Ultravioleta,  in a first for the institution.

The installation was previously acquired through the 2021 Frieze Tate Fund supported by Endeavor.

Tate will be its custodian for the next 13 years, with the start of this custodianship being marked by a ritual ceremony performed by the artist during preparations for the work’s inaugural display as part of this year’s Liverpool Biennial.

Tate said: “Recognising that Calel’s work is more than just physical form, the custodianship pays homage to the local indigenous communities within Guatemala and acknowledges the importance of sharing knowledge with the Maya-Kaqchikel people.

It said the custodianship’s 13 year length is based on Mayan thinking and custom, and “is significant as the number represents a sacred cycle of time in the Mayan calendar”.

At the end of the custodianship, new agreement will be made with the artist and his community, either to renew Tate’s custodianship, to pass it on to another institution, or to return the elements of the work to the earth.

Tate Liverpool © Rob Battersby
Tate Liverpool © Rob Battersby

The work comprises a range of fruits and vegetables placed as offerings to the artist’s ancestors upon large rocks arranged on the gallery floor.

Artist Calel explained: “These stones are not just stones. These fruits are not just fruits. Together they form altars and become a sacred site for rituals. When placing a fruit or a vegetable atop a stone with the proper intention, these elements become an offering to our ancestors and the land, and a way to thank them for their wisdom, experiences, and guidance.”

Gregor Muir, Tate’s Director of Collection, International Art, said the installation “fascinated us from the get go.

“The work purposely asks us to redefine collecting through a custodial agreement whereby the Tate retains a direct line to the artist and the Maya community. While we can never own Calel’s installation, we have much to learn from its intrinsic questioning.”

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Image: Edgar Calel, Ru k’ox k’ob’el jun ojer etemab’el (The Echo of an Ancient Form of Knowledge), 2021. Liverpool Biennial 2023 at Tate Liverpool. Courtesy of Liverpool Biennial. Photography by Mark McNulty.