In 2016 I visited Te Papa Tongarewa / Museum of New Zealand to see the exhibit Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War. The museum recently announced that the exhibit will run until 2022. It has been a blockbuster exhibit with more than 2.5 million visitors since it opened in 2015.
The exhibit takes visitors through a chronological narrative of events and has all the usual exhibition strategies: text panels, reconstructions, sounds, images, videos, artifacts. There are in fact several scales at work.
First, there is the simple yet very moving device of placing crosses for each of the soldiers lost on a particular day or cluster of days as you walk through the exhibit, highlighting the loss of live and the tragedy of war. It works on an individual scale, but also an accumulation.
Second, and this really was what has really attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors, are the eight larger than life individuals who share stories and experiences of the conflict. Each individual is captured, as the museum’s online account explains, as if “frozen in a moment of time on a monumental scale – 2.4 times human size.”
Crafted by Weta Workshops, known of course to most of us for their work on the Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and many other movies, these gigantic figures provoke an array of emotions: wonder, respect, admiration, sadness, horror.
Yet at the same time, however larger than life these figures encourage visitors to see the experience of war on a smaller scale, an individual one, somewhat removed from the narratives of military campaigns and strategies and the statistics of overall numbers wounded or lost.
One feels the heat and flies on skin, sobs, tears, and trembling hands on receiving a letter conveying the news of a loved one’s death, and although the individual’s words are heard, they are also larger than life, seen rippling across the walls in an almost Biblical fashion.
You can follow this link to Weta Workshop’s website to read more about the making of the larger than life exhibit featuring these hyper-realistic figures.
Should you find yourself in Wellington, NZ, once the new normal allows us to travel safely again, it’s a must see for sure.