Professor Robert Jahnke and Ta Te Whenua.


Artist marks 20 years


Works from the MaoriMade series.


Text, lead and metal are the common denominators in more than 100 pieces of individual art works created by one of New Zealand’s leading contemporary Mäori artists of the past 20 years.

Tirohanga o Mua: Looking Back opens tomorrow at Te Manawa Art Gallery in Palmerston North. It is a retrospective exhibition of some of Professor Robert Jahnke’s most prophetic and significant work and is being held to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his first solo exhibition in 1990.

Professor Jahnke (Ngai Taharora, Te Whanau a Iritekura, Te Whanau a Rakairoa o Ngäti Porou) is the head of Te Pütahi-ä-Toi, the University's School of Mäori Studies, and has been the coordinator of the Mäori visual arts programme at the Manawatu campus since 1991. The exhibition includes artwork on loan from public and private collections and from his personal collection.

The show demonstrates the range and transition of his practice over a 20-year period. Although the way he fabricates his art has changed over time, text has been the one constant. “I have always used text. It assists the viewers to come to terms with the work, and offers clues to what the work is about.”

He says his earlier work had a historical focus on themes such as colonisation and the Crown-Mäori relationship. Looking back, Professor Jahnke says some of his works have been prophetic.

An example of what he calls his “complex” and “excessive” earlier style is Con-Version 3.3R (1994), which features 12 handcrafted lead covered axes and bishops’ mitres based on the 1816 purchase of 40,000 acres in Northland for 12 axes.

Tä Te Whenua (1995) signals a shift from historical to contemporary issues and the introduction of new materials in the form of rubber and photographic print to create life-sized stamps over an aerial photograph of the town plan of the Martinborough township. The work was created in protest to the fiscal envelope proposal introduced by the National government who set a $1 billion ceiling on Treaty of Waitangi claims.

His newest works from the exhibition MaoriMade are entirely text-based and features a series of 10 pieces on black painted stainless steel using a “minimalistic” and “clinical” style, shown for the first time at the PaulNache Gallery in Gisborne last month.

Mayoral Decree with the text ‘IAM ALAWUNTOMYSELF’ refers to Whanganui Mayor Michael Laws’ banning of gang patches in the City of Whanganui and his stand against reinstating the letter ‘h’ back into Whanganui.

 “It’s a satirical take on his autocracy and it was somewhat prophetic that on the same day of the exhibition opening Laws decided to retire as mayor.”

The exhibition will include a comprehensive catalogue of the work in the exhibition with contributing essays by Nicholas Thomas and Anna-Marie White. The catalogue also includes a conversation between Shane Cotton and Professor Jahnke entitled Cotton and Jahnke Unplugged.

Tirohanga o Mua: Looking Back opens on Saturday, July 3 and will include a floor talk by Professor Jahnke at 2pm.

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