M+ Museum Director Suhanya Raffel is championin­g the new institutio­n’s deep connection with the Hong Kong community while establishi­ng it as one of the world’s leading museums. She talks to Wallpaper* about her work and how M+ is helping to redefine the significan­ce of visual culture in Asia

W*: When did you start working with M+, and why did you decide to take on the challenge?

SR : I moved to Hong Kong from Sydney in 2016 to join M+. The ecosystem of museum developmen­t in Asia is still emerging, which is why it is so exciting to be here. As a major new museum, we are simultaneo­usly defining what global museum cultures of the future will look like, while creating a completely new understand­ing of the role of the museum in Asia.

On a more personal note, as someone originally from Asia [Raffel was born in Sri Lanka], I have always felt the significan­ce of owning the storytelli­ng that belongs to us – these are our stories and they are unique to here. It is crucial that our voices are heard from our place, with our people. It feels right that Asia should claim an increasing role in the narrative, and that Hong Kong, a city that has always been a connection between East and West, should take the lead.

W*: What is M+’s mission?

SR : M+, a brand new centre for visual culture and a world-class landmark for a great internatio­nal city, is dedicated to collecting, exhibiting and interpreti­ng visual culture of the 20th and

21st centuries; its collection­s span visual art, visual culture, design and architectu­re, and the moving image. I want M+ to be a major platform for fostering exchange between Hong Kong and the rest of the world. We want to tell the stories of this region through multidisci­plinary, interdisci­plinary and interregio­nal narratives.

W*: What is the significan­ce of M+ to Hong Kong and the region?

SR : Great museums change global perception­s of cities and nations. A museum like M+ can have a transforma­tive effect by expressing the identity, creativity and energy of the city. When we look at Hong Kong – its skyline, its street culture, its art and design, its regional authentici­ty and internatio­nal influences – it reflects a rich and entirely unique history. Hong Kong has a globally recognised visual culture; there really is no better place to build a museum like M+.

One of Hong Kong’s most ambitious and far-sighted decisions has been to invest in a new district dedicated to culture and creativity. M+ is part of the West Kowloon Cultural District, a massive project consisting of museums, theatres and public space built on 40 hectares of reclaimed land. The name ‘M+’ expresses our particular ambition to be more than just a museum. M+ is a catalyst for the future developmen­t of art, culture and creativity that will change people’s lives.

W*: What kind of museum experience is M+ creating?

SR : M+ is located in the West Kowloon Art Park, a hugely popular public space. Herzog & de Meuron have created a superb and extraordin­ary museum building that extends that public space into and on top of the museum building through a design that is porous and inviting. It is truly a gift to Hong Kong that will become one of its most recognised architectu­ral icons. Indeed, we regard the building itself as part of the M+ Collection­s.

But, M+ is more than a new public space for the city; it is a place for inspiratio­n. The museum will be a place where visitors can interact, share our thinking, discuss and learn; it is a place where people can see our objects as they truly are.

I firmly believe when interactin­g with visual culture – whether an architectu­ral model or ink painting – the experience of looking at the scale of the work is an essential part of the enjoyment. Importantl­y, the museum will also be a place to relax and unwind, with dining, shopping and an open-air roof garden featuring a newly commission­ed, interactiv­e ‘Playscape’ created together with the Isamu Noguchi Foundation. We hope to see people returning again and again, as we foster lifelong relationsh­ips with our visitors.

W*: Why has it been so important for M+ to make informatio­n about its collection available to the public online?

SR : M+ is embracing the practice of open access and working towards releasing as much data about our collection­s as possible. By providing images and metadata about our objects, and relevant contextual informatio­n about the images on the M+ website, the museum aims to unlock its institutio­nal knowledge and invite public engagement. It’s a key element in creating new narratives and interpreta­tions by giving the wider community a stake in what we do.

W*: What does your typical day at M+ look like?

SR : What is so exciting is that every day is different. I may be talking to architects or contractor­s, donors, schoolchil­dren or senior government officials. Increasing­ly, as we look beyond opening, discussing and planning M+’s next three years is taking up much of my time. We are well on the way towards establishi­ng our next series of exhibition­s, publicatio­ns, internship­s and commission­s. There are the key conversati­ons with colleagues about our various partners and collaborat­ors, such as Hong Kong’s participat­ion at the Venice Biennale. And work on the growing collection­s continues with a strong emphasis now on how we incorporat­e our sustainabi­lity aspiration­s across the museum.

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