Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War – Exhibition Review

By Saskia Willox

Te Papa approached Weta Workshops about a collaboration to create an exhibition commemorating the 100-year anniversary of Gallipoli. This exhibition showed through the eyes of real New Zealanders who were there the tragedies of the 8 month long campaign in which 2779 New Zealanders lost their lives. Te Papa set out with the intention to unpeel any myths that remain around the 8 months of the Gallipoli campaign. I think they did this very successfully. I did not know a huge amount about the experience of the New Zealand soldiers and left feeling incredibly informed. Weta and Te Papa really set the tone for what it was like for New Zealanders and how they felt and remembered the war.

The exhibition contained various artifacts such as weapons used in the war, three-dimensional maps and projections as well as countless photographs some of which were taken by the soldiers on the front line. Some parts of the exhibition were extremely intimate. You got the opportunity to hear recounts from veterans and read letters written by the soldiers at war, some who were killed soon after. There were eight giant sculptures of the men who were actually at Gallipoli. They were so realistic it felt almost as though they might suddenly move or get up and walk off.  They were 2 ½ times the average human size and this made the detail of these figures even more amazing. You could see their pores, veins, hair and even beads of sweat rolling down their face. They were truly spectacular. The team at Weta did not shy away from the brutality or the gruesomeness of Gallipoli and showed disease and infestations of lice and flies as well as blood, dead bodies and the wounds of soldiers. They really captured the cramped and filthy conditions in with the soldiers endured.

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There was a perfect combination of things to read, things to look at and things to interact with at this exhibition. I could imagine people from all age groups being fascinated in something there. This is not the kind of thing that I would usually be interested in but this exhibition made me forget the world outside. I was completely encapsulated in all that was Gallipoli for the 2 hours it took me to navigate my way through the exhibition. The only thing that tainted my experience of this exhibition was the amount of people that were in there. I had thought as it was during the week and quite a long time after the exhibition had opened that it might be quite quiet but I was constantly tripping over people and there were queues to use any of the interactive pieces. This project took an estimated 24 thousand hours to produce and cost a ridiculous 8 million dollars. While I think this exhibition was breathtaking and will be very important in framing future generations perceptions of Gallipoli I find this kind of money really difficult to justify. Although I was pleased that it was still a free entry exhibition.