MUSEUM 2050 Dispatches

Updates from Rockbund Art Museum

Oranda Hou

I bow to the lotus feet of the gurus,
The awakening happiness of one’s own-self revealed,
Beyond better, acting like the jungle physician,
Pacifying delusion, the poison of Samsara1

In a low and soft voice, chanting the Sanskrit mantra2 that traditionally starts an Ashtanga Yoga practice, I slowly sank to the ground. Chests against the cool polyflor on the second floor of the museum building, I am with the whole crew of RAM. There was no sound other than breathing.

Unlike many of our fellow institutions, the Rockbund Art Museum took the hit from the pandemic right after announcing a renovation plan and closing down the museum space to public for the period of renovation. Amidst the pandemic, we have been generally considered lucky due to the coincidence of timing. However, the struggle to deal with the museum shutdown, coupled with isolation was the same.

Right before the pandemic hit, we just finished constructing an updated mission statement. After 10 years of bringing about contemporary arts around local communities, we decided to formally work our way towards an oceanic dimension. In light of Edouard Glissant’s notion about the sea and the change coming from small archipelagos, we set the direction to outreach, to build deeper connection with massive continents as well as small islands, with big organizations as well as individual scholars and artists. We lined up projects based on combinations, openness, and transformations. The team made travel plans to connect with collaborators internationally and locally. But boom, there hit the pandemic; there came the travel ban; the construction workers had to stop, and we all had to go home due to the shutdown; there – the pause button was pressed.

Yoga became my prescription in isolation. Every day since the beginning of shut down, I would get up in the morning, and drag myself onto the Yoga mat. Stretch the limbs to follow the sun salutation routine; push the physical limit to find that connection with myself and everything external; sweat out my uneasiness in an unusual and extraordinary time as such. It was like living in a vacuum through those few months, and time passed quickly. As the situation eased up in Shanghai, we decided to take full advantage of our space even though we couldn’t open it to the public. We started organizing private saloons. RAM colleagues and friends would gather inside the museum regularly to share thoughts, emotions, family histories, personal stories, food, hobbies (perfume, manga, etc.) even fitness schedules that matter to us.

Hence, when it got to my turn, it was Yoga that I wanted to share with my team. The moment when the whole team entered samadhi, a state of meditative consciousness in Yoga Practice, it felt like we had emerged from the worst of pandemic, stronger and more connected. The extraordinary time revealed many hidden aspects of life and work: pushed us to invent alternative formats of engagement, and trace new routes for encounters; helped us expand the vision to the unknow and the forgotten, and re-contextualize the role of the museum against the backdrop of today’s new normal condition.  Slowly but surely, we rose from the floor, and got back on our feet. Refreshed and reanimated, we are ready to close the Ashtanga practices with the ancient Mangala mantra of light and love.

May all be well with mankind,
May the leaders of the Earth protect in every way by keeping to the right path.
May there be goodness for those who know the Earth to be sacred.
May all the worlds be happy.

  1. A Sanskrit word meaning “wandering” or “world”, with the connotation of cyclic, circuitous change.  It is also the concept of rebirth and “cyclicality of all life, matter, existence”.
  2. A sacred utterance or group of words in Sanskrit believed by practitioners to have religious, magical or spiritual powers. At its simplest, the word “Om” serves as a mantra.

About the Author:

Oranda Hou is Director of Development at the Rockbund Art Museum. She is based in Shanghai.

About the Series:

Museum 2050 has always been about bringing people together through our community’s shared passion for museums and institutional development. As the world slowly and carefully starts reopening, we are checking in weekly with various members of our broader network to share personal reflections, anecdotes and musings about how they and their institutions have been operating in the face of this pandemic. In these incredibly difficult times for all, we hope that these brief vignettes from around the world bring us closer together, and remind us that even when the world stops and museum doors close, we still persevere.