Primarily a sculptor, Robert Jahnke is considered one of New Zealand’s leading contemporary Maori artists. Professor Jahnke, of Ngāi Taharora, Te Whānau a Iritekura, Te Whānau a Rakairoa o Ngāti Porou, is of Samoan-German-Irish-Maori heritage, His work is typically based on political issues that face Maori people, the relationship between Maori and European colonisers and the impact of Christianity on Maori culture. His practice questions and challenges established Eurocentric narration of New Zealand’s history and champions Māori perspectives, experiences and narratives.
Jahnke has long been drawn to the aesthetic and metaphorical qualities of light, (neon light in particular). He translates neon forms into diamonds, triangles & crosses. Using light, mirrors and reflections, the neon light forms beam brightly in Jahnke’s works, creating a distinctive glow and mirrored infinity, which is simply compelling.
His cross form is the basic stitch in tukutuku weaving and the building block for patterns such as kaokao (each of which plays its own metaphorical role in te Ao Māori). Tukutuku chevron pattern is found in Māori tribal houses that signifies fortitude and virility. Compositionally it aligns with the haka stance assumed as a prelude to war or in celebration of victory.
Jahnke was raised at Waipiro Bay on the East Coast. He went on to receive a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Fine Arts from Elam School of Fine Arts, and a Masters in Experimental Animation from California Institute of the Arts. Jahnke was awarded a Doctor of Māori Studies from Massey University. Jahnke was instrumental in establishing Toioho ki Āpiti, the Māori Visual Arts programme and he became an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori art and education. Winner of a long list of prestigious art awards, Jahnke is a highly respected and widely collected artist, you will find his works exhibited in prominent public and private collections.