SINGAPORE - Containing more than 1,000 items, the Istana's collection of state gifts symbolises diplomacy, recalls meetings with foreign leaders and reveals distinctive traits of their country of origin.
A new multimedia project, launched on Thursday (March 3), will allow the public to become familiar with gifts Singapore has received from other nations and experience seven of them up close in 3D through augmented reality (AR).
Called Art Of Diplomacy: State Gifts In The Istana's Collection, the project - a collaboration between The Straits Times and the President's Office - was launched by President Halimah Yacob and Mr Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief of SPH Media Trust's English, Malay and Tamil Media Group and editor of ST.
The launch event at the Istana Heritage Gallery coincided with its reopening following a two-year closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Seven of the 19 gifts featured in the project are part of the gallery’s refreshed display, which is currently accessible only to small organised groups of beneficiaries.
Madam Halimah said in a Facebook post that the project builds on efforts to leverage technology to bring the Istana “closer to the people”.
“The initiative will aim to reach a wider audience and allow users to learn more about the significance of the state gifts through digital platforms, providing ease of access beyond the Istana Open Houses that we hold each year,” she said.
Among the featured items is a vase gifted by then Prime Minister of Vietnam Nguyen Xuan Phuc to President Halimah during his visit to Singapore in April 2018. The vase depicts scenes from Singapore's Marina Bay and Vietnam's Halong Bay.
Other gifts showcase ties between countries in more symbolic ways.
A covered container named Garden Of Blossoms, presented by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Madam Halimah during her visit to Beijing in May 2019, is among them. It combines a gold thread-weaving pattern with filigree techniques, meant to symbolise close connections and interdependence between countries, built through mutual exchanges and learning.
Also gold-coloured is a tepak sirih set from Malaysia, used to organise the necessary ingredients in preparing betel or areca nut for chewing, which was once a common pastime in Malaysia and Singapore.
It was presented by Malaysia's former king, Sultan Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah, and his wife to then President Tony Tan Keng Yam during their state visit to Singapore in May 2014.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo presented to Madam Halimah a set of three lacquered boxes during the 32nd Asean Summit hosted by Singapore in April 2018. The containers were designed according to the Balinese philosophy of Tri Hita Karana - or the three causes of well-being: harmony among people, with the environment and with god.
A durian-shaped bowl given by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in September 2019 is among the more unusual gifts, while a sculpture of a lioness from German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in December 2019 is also featured in the digital display.
For the state gifts in 3D, readers can view them up close by "placing" them on a coffee table or any flat surfaces. All they need to do is download the ST mobile app that will enable the AR feature.
Mr Fernandez said: "These gifts are state treasures and it is good that the public will now be able to view and learn more about them."
He added: "For The Straits Times, we were happy to work with the Istana team to help present these items in an engaging, multimedia way.
"It allows us to deploy and showcase our multimedia efforts, which is part of the ongoing digital transformation of our ST newsroom."
It is the second time the Istana and ST have collaborated on a project showcasing lesser-known aspects of the President's official residence.
The first multimedia project, published online in 2019, takes visitors on a walk-through of the Istana's grounds through drone footage, interactive graphics and 360-degree photographs. It features secluded spots and the team that keeps it going behind the scenes.
Besides experiencing the state gifts in AR, readers can also find out about how ST, working with a team from Ngee Ann Polytechnic's School of Engineering, scanned and presented the artefacts.
The AR feature offers readers a different experience from viewing the artefacts in the Istana gallery.
"It gives us a chance to rotate, scale and zoom in on objects that are usually kept encased," said ST interactive graphics editor Rodolfo Pazos, who led the team for the project.
"AR is a fun and engaging way to interact with the news that will hopefully delight and surprise our audience."
To enjoy the full AR experience of the interactive, download The Straits Times app on your mobile phone. Next, visit str.sg/gifts to view the interactive in the ST app.
Social service agencies or community groups keen to arrange for a visit to the gallery may write to email@example.com to indicate interest.