Auckland artist set to create the world’s largest poppy for Anzac centenary

This year marks 100 years since the ANZACs got involved in Word War One. And to honour the sacrifice, an Auckland artist has embarked on the massive undertaking of creating the world’s largest poppy, which will consist of 59,000 red metal discs with contributors’ names and messages placed by him and members of the public on Auckland’s Domain in support of the RSA. 

Artist Tony McNeight says he came up with the idea for The Giant Poppy Art Installation while attending the Anzac day dawn service in 2014 when people were laying wreaths.

“I had an epiphany, why not have a modern take where everyone can participate.”

So, almost straight away, he says, he began the development of the project to create the biggest poppy in the world for the 100 year anniversary. He says it will be as big as a football field, measuring 40 metres in diameter and he will fill it with 59,000 metal plates, symbolic of the number of men and women who were wounded or killed in WWI.

People from all over the world can donate online from now, and a metal disc will be placed for them, or people can come down to the Domain to donate and place their own disc between the 16th and the 24th of April when it will be slowly built before it’s finished in time for Anzac Day and then removed, says McNeight.

He says all proceeds will be going to the RSA and he hopes to raise over $100,000. Each donation begins at $5 upwards and he says the donations have already been pouring in. 

“It’s taken off with a spike”.

The scale of the project is huge, not just in terms of the poppy itself, but also the amount of organisation that has gone into it. McNeight had the daunting task of raising $300,000 to be able to build it in the first place, and he says the fundraising still hasn’t quite finished yet.

“I am personally underwriting this myself. I have had generous organisations and individuals who have given me support but we are still fundraising. It’s a great project for companies to become involved with for staff, clients and the wider community. NZ Steel have been fantastic in supplying the discs. NZME have been fantastic for media. Image Centre have also been wonderful in helping with production, Spark is also supporting as well and Sky television has come onboard as well. And then there’s lots of other ones who we are talking to at the moment.”

As well as organising sponsors, McNeight has also set up a media presence for the event launching a Facebook and Twitter page, creating his own website, and producing his own TVC.

“We produced a TV commercial and that’s going to broadcast across all media, especially on Sky because they are a big supporter and Rialto. I created it myself, it’s simple but strong and poignant. Sky are releasing it this week.”

He’s not doing it all alone though, he says. On the day he will have volunteers (which he has dubbed “poppyteers”) and advisors,

“So I have started off as one person but have grown to have a team around me, because it’s what something of this structure takes.”

McNeight says the event has also caught the attention of international audiences and says word of the event is spreading rapidly through media channels.

“Feedback from day one has been absolutely awesome, everybody loves it and thinks it’s such a great thing especially from the point of involving everybody. You can come down to the domain, write a message, place a poppy. It’s a personal tribute to those who honoured our freedom and democracy.”

The artist says Anzac Day has always been personally significant to him as his father and father’s brothers fought in WWII and he also had a great uncle who died in France in WWI.

The day after Anzac Day, on the 26th of April, McNeight says the poppy will be removed and the discs will be recycled. “But we are working through the possibility of turning them into something, maybe a sculpture or an installation and putting it maybe somewhere special.”

And the other ANZAC action? 

  • Massey University communication design students Harmony Repia and Gili Sharrock collaborated with St Kilda (Australian Rules) football club, designing a special Guernsey for the second year in a row. The two received the commission from Open Lab at the College of Creative Arts in Wellington. The Guernseys included appropriate motifs such as the rising sun badge and a stylised poppy with 100 crosses symbolising the centenary since the Gallipoli landings. The garments will be worn by the players for the team’s Anzac Day match against Carlton in Wellington’s Westpac Stadium.
  • Maori Television has released a 15-second TVC promo about its upcoming coverage of Anzac Day. The TVC features a chipper young man smiling at the camera while happy music plays in the background. Quickly the mood changes as we hear shellfire instead of music and animation turns the man into a young soldier. 
  • Steam Incorporated will have a special Anzac excursion from the Manawatu to Wellington to coincide with the official opening of the National War Memorial Park in Wellington. The company says the train will be hauled by its WWI memorial locomotive Ab608 dubbed “Passchendale” which returned to service last year after a restoration costing over half a million dollars. The company says most of the carriages on the train were built over 100 years ago and were in service during WWI.
  • The Government is also commemorating the Anzacs with the release of one million coloured coins to mark the centenary of Anzac landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The 50 cent coins feature New Zealand and Australian soldiers standing back-to-back with their heads bowed in remembrance, on the other side of the coin is Queen Elizabeth II. It is New Zealand’s first coloured coin which has had vibrant high resolution colour stamped on it. The coins will be released publicly on March 23, available in PostShops and Kiwibank branches nationwide, sold at their 50 cent value.

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