Can one enjoy all the thrills of an exhibition at any place and any time? Just type “Great and Good Friends” in the search panel of the Google Arts & Culture page and an exhibition of artefacts will pop up promptly on your computer or digital screen.
The physical “Great and Good Friends” exhibition, celebrating 200 years of relations between Thailand and the United States ended on June 30 at Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles (QSMT) after being on display for over three months. But those who missed the show can now enjoy its digital version, thanks to a collaboration between Google, the US Embassy in Bangkok, the Thai government and the QSMT.
Without moving a toe, audiences can have a spectacular 360-degree view of the exhibition, including a glimpse of a historic letter from US president Abraham Lincoln to King Mongkut back in February 1862, the portrait of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in a silver niello frame presented as a gift to president John F Kennedy in 1963 and many other artefacts exchanged between the two countries over the past two centuries.
The exchange of letters between Lincoln and King Mongkut is where the phrase “Great and Good Friend” is used extensively used, which became the theme for the celebration of bicentennial relations.
Lincoln wrote to thank the King for sending “rich presents ... as tokens of goodwill and friendship for the American people”.
The exhibition is not just about visual simulation of golden, dazzling artefacts. There also plenty of descriptive texts that narrate the stories from the time bilateral ties were born, stories behind each gift and artefact as well as the journey to the birth of the exhibition.
Curators Trevor Merrion and William Bradford shared their experiences in bringing to life the historic exhibition. For instance, there were challenges in “taking the artefacts on loan, their conservation, transport and production that required long hours of work by hundreds of Thais and Americans to feature over 79 artefacts from 15 institutions in the US and Thailand”, they said.
“I hope that telling stories of the last 10 generations [would help] some young Thai people understand better what is unique and valuable about the relationship about Thailand and the US,” said US Ambassador Glyn Davies, who pushed for the exhibition project more than three and half years ago.
“One of my jobs has been to help Thai people, especially young people, understand why it is important that Thailand and the US should work together,” Davies added, reiterating his intention behind putting the exhibition together on the digital platform.
For educational purposes, the exhibition is also planned to be featured in the Google Expeditions app to allow teachers across the world to take their classes on virtual field trips to QSMT
What is Google’s aim behind promoting this kind of soft power diplomacy? The tech giant’s country director for Thailand, Ben King, explains that the goal is to demonstrate how Google can be locally relevant and contribute efficiently to Thailand, and not be just another corporate based in Thailand.
And how exactly does one describe Google Art & Culture? As something that is completely free to use, democratic and accessible to any museum, says Suhair Khan, Program Manager of Google Arts & Culture who put it together.
While Google Arts & Culture may start becoming more visible in Thailand, the application itself has been active since 2011 with over 1,500 cultural institution partners in 70 countries, covering over 6 million photos, videos, manuscripts and other documents of art, culture and history.