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Arts + Lifestyle

From The Desk Of… Suhanya Raffel, Museum Director Of M+, Hong Kong

After much delay, Hong Kong’s M+ museum is set to finally open its doors on 12 November 2021.

The Herzog & de Meuron-designed museum, located in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District, is Asia’s first global museum of contemporary visual culture and is set to become a key destination for the international art crowd.

Ahead of its grand opening, we caught up with M+’s Museum Director, Suhanya Raffel, to learn more about her role at M+ and what we can expect from Hong Kong’s newest addition…

How do you start your days?

With a black coffee in bed.

What’s your go-to uniform?

A silk shirt, tailored pants, flat shoes, and a mask.

Describe your workspace/ workplace…

I’m turning my office into a small jungle – there are lots of plant pots. The other important part of my workplace is a beautiful wall with posters of all the work that we’ve done to date. There are posters for our exhibitions, learning, work, performances, screenings, and summer camp. They are things that I look at every day and all the time which remind me of who we are.


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A post shared by M+, Museum of Visual Culture (@mplusmuseum)

What time of day are you at your most creative?

The morning. I’m a morning person.

What’s your go-to lunch order?

The rice paper rolls at Curator Creative Café at M+. Healthy, easy, and they’re really delicious.

What is the most rewarding part of the job?

Making M+ to fulfil its promise. That’s really rewarding. It is also the most challenging thing because I must make sure we deliver our promise.

Where are you from originally?

I was born in Sri Lanka, migrated to Australia, lived in the UK, and am now in Hong Kong. I am lucky to be able to call many great places home.

What was your first paid job?

I worked as a waitress to put myself through college and university. So that was my first paid job in Australia, in Sydney. After I graduated from university, I left Australia and went to the UK to work at the Tate, which was my first museum job.


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A post shared by M+, Museum of Visual Culture (@mplusmuseum)

What did you study in school/university?

At high school I studied everything I could possibly study. I studied science, music, art, maths, and English. I did many things because I wanted to keep all my options open. At university, I studied art history, which was my major, as well as Italian, anthropology, and biology. I was also very interested in archaeology and together with anthropology, biology, and art history I gave some thought to early development of humankind and human culture. My major was art history and then I did my postgraduate work in Museum Studies which led me to work in museums.

Do you have a mentor or inspirational figure that has guided or influenced you?

In world history, inspirational leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, were great leaders and philosophers. In terms of my personal mentors, I’ve had many over my career, and have looked to many women for advice. They are people like Gene Sherman, a collector, a philanthropist, and a great arts advocate in Australia. I speak to Claire Roberts too, who is an academic, curator, and teacher. My husband, Michael Snelling is a key guide and, as we both have experienced leadership roles in the art world, his advice and continued guidance is critical. There are also many younger colleagues of mine, who are important influencers. I do look to younger people as mentors too as they provide me with valuable insight. Finally, I have to say that artists, architects, and designers, my creative friends, are essential inspiring fellow travellers in building a strong advocacy for cultural life.

What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learned?

Making mistakes is part of life. A mistake is also what you can learn from the most. I think that it’s a very important business lesson to acknowledge and learn from missteps. One other important lesson is that a good idea, from wherever it comes, is worth pursuing. So, it is really important to be open to good ideas.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I’ve ever received was from my father and mother. Their advice was that given we all spend much of our time working, it’s very important to do the work that you find most nourishing. Life is always challenging, and work is always hard – so if you’re going to spend time in challenge conditions, make sure it’s what you really want to do.

What are you working on right now?

Opening M+; of course, this is all consuming. And thinking about what’s next for M+.

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