2023 Arts Foundation Te Tumu Toi Laureate receiving the Jillian Friedlander Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa Award
Considered one of New Zealand’s leading contemporary Māori artists, Jahnke is a highly respected educator who works as an historian, teacher, researcher, writer and advocate for Māori and indigenous arts nationally and internationally. He contributes to Māori Development through his teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate level, his research into traditional Māori carving and his academic writing straddling art education, contemporary and traditional Māori art, and identity politics.
Jahnke is also an artist whose practice over the years has straddled design, illustration, animation, and sculpture. His work is typically based on political issues that face Māori people, the relationship between Māori and European colonisers and the impact of Christianity on Māori culture. Since his solo exhibition in 1990 Jahnke has maintained his practice as a sculptor with several commissions and exhibitions. Recently his practice has included painting and neon installation. He is represented in several major national and private collections in Aotearoa New Zealand.
The former Head of the School of Māori Studies at Massey University in Palmerston North, Jahnke is currently the Professor of Māori Visual Arts at Massey University’s Whiti o Rehua School of Art. He was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori art and education in the 2016 Honours list. In 2022 he received the Te Papa Rongomaraeroa Award for his contribution to Te Ao Māori. In 2021 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand for contributions to research and was awarded a ANZAAE Premier Award for sustained leadership, outstanding service, and contributions to research in art education. He is responsible for setting up the first Māori Visual Arts degree in a university: a Bachelor of Māori Visual Arts in 1995 which was subsequently followed by a Postgraduate Diploma of Māori Visual Arts and a Master of Māori Visual Arts in 1999.
"Robert Jahnke is a nationally renowned as a leading artist, educator, and scholar. As an artist, he is widely represented in collecting institutions including Te Papa Tongarewa, Auckland Art Gallery, and Christchurch Art Gallery. As an educator in Māori Visual Arts at Massey University, Bob has had immense impact as one of the founders of Toioho ki Āpiti, a ground-breaking school of art that has fostered the learning and practice of generations of Māori and Indigenous artists. As a founding member of Te Waka Toi, he was part of the Toi Iho trademark mahi to protect ngā toi Māori. Throughout his decades-long career he has continued to evolve his artistic practice, and advocate for and inspire generations of artists and scholars. His own work is politically engaged, visually breathtaking and explores traditional Māori narratives in a way that is incredibly contemporary and exciting."