Ryan made this work while she was artist in residence at Tate St Ives (1998-2000). Asked to respond to Barbara Hepworth’s work in situ, she worked in Hepworth’s studio, using marble which had been donated by the Hepworth Estate. Although anxious not to emulate Hepworth’s work, Ryan found her studio a ‘good environment in which to concentrate’ and felt as if she had found a ‘friendly muse’ there (Ryan, Veronica Ryan – Artist in Residence: Quoit Montserrat, exhibition leaflet, Tate St Ives 2000, p.2). The Cornish peninsula strongly reminded Ryan of the Caribbean island of Montserrat, where she was born and had lived until her family emigrated to the United Kingdom when she was one and a half years old. During her residency she also made a related work, owned by Tate, Quoit Montserrat, 2000 (Tate T07770).
Mango Reliquary is a Carrara marble cuboid, similar in scale to Quoit Montserrat, with twenty mango seeds encased in lead embedded in its upper surface. Marble was a new material for Ryan, who hitherto had worked mostly with plaster and lead, often combined with found objects. Although at first apprehensive about its precious quality, she enjoyed both the close physical experience involved in carving it and what she perceived as its ‘meditative aspect’ (Veronica Ryan, p.3). Ryan has also remarked how marble has a cold, ‘death-like quality’ and a ‘resonance of mortality about it’ but also that, by working it, this coldness could be replaced by a ‘soft and warm’ appearance (Veronica Ryan, p.6). In her works she often experiments with different materials and textures, mixing hard and soft, cool and hot (see also Untitled, 1985, Tate L01938, and Relics in the Pillow of Dreams, 1985, Tate T06530).
Soon after Ryan was invited to work in St Ives, one of Montserrat’s many volcanoes erupted, bearing destruction and covering the Southern part of the island, where she had lived, in ash. This work relates to Montserrat and has a deep personal resonance for the artist. Ryan has pointed out how the ash covering much of Montserrat was paradoxically very fertile, carrying ‘the possibility of regeneration’ along with destruction. One of her reasons for encasing the mango seeds was ‘to reflect the possibility of renewal.’ She continued, ‘wrapping the seeds is rather like burying them or shrouding them and I quite like the sense of paradox at the heart of the work.’ (Veronica Ryan, pp.6-7.) Reliquaries are receptacles for the storage or display of sacred relics and thus the work can be seen as symbolising hope for regeneration in the ravaged island.
Veronica Ryan, The Wood Street Gallery, Pittsburgh 1993
Veronica Ryan – Artist in Residence: Quoit Montserrat, exhibition leaflet, Tate St Ives 2000