President Tony Tan Keng Yam launches Istana Heritage Gallery

Gallery will evoke pride and give a sense of how far country has come in its journey towards nationhood, he says

The new Istana Heritage Gallery at the Istana Park will be home to 18 state gifts from dignitaries. The gallery is open to the public daily except for Wednesdays and admission is free
President Tan and his wife Mary with Ms Constance Sheares, daughter of former president Benjamin Sheares, on a tour of the gallery led by NHB's director of preservation of sites and monuments Jean Wee.
President Tan and his wife Mary with Ms Constance Sheares, daughter of former president Benjamin Sheares, on a tour of the gallery led by NHB's director of preservation of sites and monuments Jean Wee.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

In a rare and historic gathering, relatives of Singapore's past presidents gathered at Istana Park yesterday for the opening of the new Istana Heritage Gallery.

Among them was Puan Noor Aishah, 83, widow of Singapore's first president, the late Yusof Ishak.

She posed for photos with a resin bust of her husband, along with President Tony Tan Keng Yam, who had launched the gallery, and the artist behind the sculpture, Mr Lim Yew Kuan, 88.

Her husband had gone for at least six sittings for the bust, she recalled after touring the gallery. She said she hopes the work and other artefacts on display at the gallery "will help the public better understand the history of the country".

Launched yesterday, the gallery took about nine months to build and was initiated by Dr Tan as part of efforts to educate the public on the history and heritage of the Istana, a national monument.

The gallery, which sits opposite the Istana's main gate, had been transformed from an open-sided shelter into a glass pavilion.

The size of about three four-room Housing Board flats, it also houses dazzling state gifts from world leaders such as a striking blue ceramic plate from French President Francois Hollande.

In all, there are about 1,500 state gifts in the Istana's collection, and 18 will be on show at any one time at the gallery. The showcase on state gifts will be updated once a year.

Admission is free and the gallery is open from 10am to 6pm daily, except on Wednesdays.

There is currently no guided tour of the gallery. The public can start visiting from today.

Dr Tan said he wanted to make the Istana more accessible to Singaporeans, on top of the five times a year it opens to the public, as well as the existing heritage tours and nature walks.

He said he believes the gallery will evoke a sense of pride among Singaporeans, and give a sense of how far the country has come in its journey towards nationhood.

"The Istana is a vital part of our history," he said. Also, the display of the state gifts gives a reflection of the important role Singapore plays throughout the world and shows the esteem in which Singapore is held, said Dr Tan, who was at the event with his wife Mary.

The gallery was curated by the National Heritage Board's preservation of sites and monuments division.

There are six sections in the gallery. It starts off by covering the history of the Sri Temasek building on the Istana grounds which, together with the Istana, was preserved as a national monument in 1992.

It then discusses the Istana's construction in detail in the second section.

The third section covers the effects of World War II on the Istana and its occupants.

The fourth section chronicles the Istana's transformation from the Government House into the Istana and the replacement of the colonial symbols with the State Crest, Presidential Standard and Presidential Crest, after Singapore attained full internal self-government status in 1959.

The fifth section details the Istana's flora and fauna, while the last describes the functions of the Istana, which include hosting visits by foreign dignitaries.

The showcase, which is expected to draw 120,000 visitors each year, is a collaboration between the President's Office, the National Parks Board, National Library Board and the National Heritage Board.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2016, with the headline 'President Tan launches Istana Heritage Gallery'. Print Edition | Subscribe