Robert Jahnke

Work History

Tā Te Whenua Kahurangi
Tā Te Whenua Kahurangi (2020)
Purehuroa Whero
Purehuroa Whero (2021)
Ancestral Connection
Ancestral Connection (2004)
Ngā Manu a Māui: The Birds of Māui II
Ngā Manu a Māui: The Birds of Māui II (2009-12)
Navarra Pātiki Mā
Navarra Pātiki Mā (2014)
Ka Tangi Hoki Ahau
Ka Tangi Hoki Ahau (2019)
Tā Te Whenua Kōwhai
Tā Te Whenua Kōwhai (2020)

Artist Information

Working as a creative practitioner since the 1970s, Robert Jahnke has consistently spoken truth to power. Jahnke’s artistic practice is one of the lenses through which he observes the discourses of socio-political power and lays bare the inequities and structural violence that continue to affect Māori in post-colonial Aotearoa New Zealand.

Jahnke's sculptural practice utilises steel, wood, found objects, and, most recently, neon. Text has been a regular feature in his works and it operates on linguistic, semiotic, and visual levels. Through the repetition, rotation, and reflection of words and phrases, Jahnke reveals the unstable nature of language and how meaning shifts between speakers and listeners, context and form. Light operates as a physical manifestation of these shifts in recent works and the animation it provides is a reminder of the mutability of interpretation. Describing the use of stacked fluorescent tubes in his 2019 exhibition Lamentation, Jahnke notes that they “form a repetitive vertical pattern alluding to roimata toroa; the tears of the albatross” (1). Images stretch back in an unbroken continuum and each element is integral to the work as a whole.

In the 2020 series Tā Te Whenua, a single ‘X’ in a diamond glows in a mirrored infinity. The character itself possesses multiple symbolic functions: X can mark a spot or negate a statement. X denotes 10 in the Roman numeric system, in algebra it is the unknown, in arithmetic, the multiplier. More importantly however, this cross form is the basic stitch in tukutuku weaving and the building block for patterns such as kaokao (the bend or side of the ribs) or pātiki (the flounder), (2) each of which plays its own metaphorical role in te Ao Māori.

It was during his first year at Ardmore Teachers’ College in Papakura, that Robert Jahnke realised that his future lay in the arts. After leaving this initial course of study, he spent two years working and compiling a portfolio prior to his acceptance into Elam in 1972. These first early steps became part of the journey that took Jahnke to a Master’s programme in animation at the California Institute of the Arts, onto teaching positions in Mangere and Rotorua, and finally to Massey University, where he is currently Professor of Maori Visual Arts at the Whiti o Rehua School of Art. Robert Jahnke was instrumental in establishing Toioho ki Āpiti, the Māori Visual Arts programme, at Massey and in 2016 he became an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori art and education.
1. Robert Jahnke, quoted in Accessed 15/05/20
2. Ngä Puna Waihanga - Waitaha Tai Poutini, Püawaitanga o te Ringa: Fruits of our busy hands, Christchurch Public Libraries, 2003.


Solo Exhibitions

Group Exhibitions