Insights > CIMAM conference 2024 on Sustainable Futures | Interview with Suhanya Raffel
27 Jun 2024

CIMAM conference 2024 on Sustainable Futures | Interview with Suhanya Raffel

Suhanya Raffel Museum Director, M+

ASEF culture360 speaks with Director of M+ in Hong Kong and the President of CIMAM, Suhanya Raffel, to share about her journey and involvement with the museum community, the focus of sustainability in this year's CIMAM's annual conference, and the future role of museums. 

1. Tell us about yourself, your journey with CIMAM and your involvement with the museum community.

Suhanya Raffel: My interest in the museum community started very early when I was an undergraduate student studying art history in Sydney, and it has never stopped. It has led me to some of the most wonderful museums in the world, from the TATE, when it was formerly known as Tate Gallery on Millbank, London, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Queensland Art Gallery, these latter two both located in Australia, and now M+ in Hong Kong. It is this journey that brought me to the position of being a Board Member at CIMAM and now as its President.

2. Looking back, what have been your favourite CIMAM conferences in recent years?

Suhanya Raffel: It's actually quite hard to pinpoint a single favorite, but considering my Australian background, the CIMAM conference in Sydney would have to be one of my favorites. However, I must also mention that my first conference as President of CIMAM in Buenos Aires in Argentina was utterly superb.

1. CIMAM Annual Conference 2023 in Buenos Aires. Auditorium of the Museum of Modern Art of Buenos Aires © Guido Limardo

3. The topic of this year’s conference is Sustainable Futures: How? When? For Whom?  Why was the topic of sustainability chosen? What does the topic say about the current landscape of the museum sector? What are some challenges and responsibilities that a museum faces today regarding this topic? 

Suhanya Raffel: Sustainable Futures: How, When, For Whom?’ This topic stands as one of the most important issues facing humanity, including our cultural sector. Therefore, it is crucial that, at this critical point in time, we examine our responsibilities as museums and institutions towards our communities. The topic is undeniably urgent, as it directly affects our future and the well-being of future generations. It is imperative that we, as adults in the world today, explore how we can contribute to making a positive difference. Museums make a difference in people's lives and their sense of well-being, bringing new ways of seeing and introducing how we might consider various histories and times. 

It is our responsibility to organise an annual conference that delves deeper into matters pertinent to our current moment, to help in shaping future policies and exhibitions, while ensuring that we intelligently listen to and respond productively to current issues.

4. Can you tell us more about speakers that you are working with this year, how are you selecting the speakers for the conference? How do you tailor the programme to engage with the diverse international audience that attends?

Suhanya Raffel: For CIMAM, the voice of artists has always been important, and we can see that our first major keynote for this Sustainable Futures Conference features Mark Bradford, a great artist who has done incredible work with his communities. He exemplifies how the arts can change people's lives. The speakers for the conference are also being developed and carefully considered by our Annual Conference Contents Committee, which consists of many wonderful colleagues identifying the conference topic and sub-subjects for each day. Whom can we listen to? Who should we listen to? 

These are questions we are particularly addressing in relation to indigenous / First Nations knowledge, as we aim to incorporate it during a conference taking place in Los Angeles, coinciding with the Pacific Standard Time Festival. Los Angeles is a city in North America facing the Pacific, and we can consider this geographical context and its historical significance through this perspective.

2. Pictures of the speakers at the CIMAM conference 2024 : Mark Bradford, Edgar Calel, Zita Cobb, Andrea Fraser, Taloi Havini, Candice Hopkins, Andrea Lissoni, Ibrahim Mahama, Michael Maltzan, John Kenneth Paranada, Walid Raad, J. Fiona Ragheb, Pablo José Ramírez, Manuel Segade Lodeiro, Kelsey Shell, Yesomi Umolu, Daniel Vega and Cecilia Winter © CIMAM

5. Could you describe this year’s CIMAM Conference in a short phrase? As the current President of CIMAM, what would you like for audiences to take away from their participation in the conference?

Suhanya Raffel: CIMAM holds conferences every year, which provides a vital opportunity to gather together and learn. 

These conferences bring forth thoughts, ideas, and stimulation that act as a pause from our everyday work. They help refresh and renew our perspectives, infusing new energy. The conference serves as a platform for exchanging knowledge allowing for new ideas. Additionally, it fosters a sense of camaraderie among institutions. Our colleagues form our audience, and through this shared experience, we not only gain strength individually but also nurture and strengthen our bonds with one another.

3. CIMAM Annual Conference 2023 in Buenos Aires. Proa Foundation © Guido Limardo

6. What would you say is the future role of art museums in today’s complex geopolitical world?

Suhanya Raffel: The role of the museum encompasses well-being and serves as a space for communities, storytelling, and knowledge building. Knowledge ensures that we understand how to manage our complex lives, how to think about what's happening to us through the cypher of art. The recent past has demonstrated the criticality of museums, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Audiences turned to museums as institutions, to seek respite, reflection, and to gather in the most productive way. Museums hold immense significance today and will continue to be vital spaces for communities in the future.

7. How do you see the role of CIMAM evolving in the global art museum landscape over the next few years? How can CIMAM adapt its policies and programmes to better support and reflect the diversity of its global members, particularly those from underrepresented countries in Asia?

Suhanya Raffel: CIMAM is an organisation of modern and contemporary art, and we use the ICOM definition of what a museum is. This means our institutions are involved in collecting, archiving, teaching, preserving, and building knowledge. It is crucial to observe the growth of these institutions in underrepresented countries. As they come online, we reach out to them and invite them to become members. This proactive approach is embraced by our community of institutions. Among the various organisations dedicated to cultural institutions, CIMAM is proud of its reach and to be so active and globally engaged.

Cover Image: Suhanya Raffel Museum Director, M+ © Winnie Yeung @ Visual Voices. Courtesy of M+, Hong Kong

The 56th CIMAM conference will be held in Los Angeles from 6 to 8 December 2024, addressing the subject of sustainability from an integrated and holistic perspective, beginning with our desire to respond to climate change by reassessing our policies around collection care and conservation; rethinking the buildings we occupy and the cities we are part of; while also exploring innovative models for economic sustainability and community building. 

Suhanya Raffel is the Museum Director of M+ in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District since her appointment in 2016. She leads M+ as a whole and oversees all museum activities, including acquisitions, programming, collections care, development, research, institutional collaborations, and museum operations. Since joining M+, Raffel has led the museum’s mission, broadening its international reach and championing its deep connection with its local community. Since M+’s opening to the public in November 2021, it has welcomed over 3.7 million visitations through its doors.

Previously, Raffel was the Deputy Director and Director of Collections at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney, Australia (2013–2016), and held many senior curatorial positions, including Deputy Director of curatorial and collection development from 2010 and Acting Director in 2012 at the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia (1994–2013). 

Raffel has been appointed as the President of CIMAM for the 2023–2025 period and was on the Board of CIMAM (2016–2022), the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art (2016 ongoing). She is also a member of the Bizot Group (2021 ongoing). She is a Trustee of the Geoffrey Bawa Trust and the Lunuganga Trust, Sri Lanka (1994 ongoing). 

Previously, she was a member of the Asian Art Council at the Guggenheim Museum, New York (2009–2014) and served on the boards of the Australia–China Council, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Canberra (2010–2015) and the Griffith University Asia Institute, Brisbane (2010–2015) and LendLease Public Art Advisory Panel (2014–2016).

She was awarded the 2020 Republic of France Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and is the 2022 Sydney University Alumni Achievement Awardee for Cultural Contribution, Sydney, Australia.