Robert Jahnke was born in Waipiro Bay 1951 of Ngai Taharora, Te Whanau a Iritekura, Te Whanau a Rakiroa o Ngati Porou decent.
Jahnke is the former Head of the School of Maori Art, Knowledge and Education at Massey University in Palmerston North. He is currently the Professor of Maori Visual Arts for the Toioho ki Apiti Maori Visual Arts programme. He is responsible for setting up the first Maori Visual Arts degree in a university: a Bachelor of Maori Visual Arts in 1995, a Postgraduate Diploma of Maori Visual Arts and a Master of Maori Visual Arts in 1999.
He contributes to Maori Development through his teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate level, his research into traditional Maori carving and his academic writing straddling art education, contemporary and traditional Maori art, and identity politics.
Jahnke is also an artist whose practice over the years has straddled design, illustration, animation and sculpture. Since his solo exhibition in 1990 Jahnke has maintained his practice as a sculptor with a number of commissions and exhibitions including the Ranginui Door at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Spinning Top at Woodward Street in Wellington, the entrance to Harrod’s Sky Casino in Auckland, Twin Hulls at the University of Auckland Tamaki Campus, Waharoa and entrance for Mana Tamariki with Tennet and Brown Architects and concrete relief panels for St. Brigid’s church in Feilding. Recently his practice has included painting and neon installations, ATA: A Third Reflection which toured New Zealand and was one of the highlights of Sydney Contemporary and Installation Contemporary, Carriageworks, Sydney Australia in 2018.
He is represented in a number of major collections including The Sir James Wallace Collection, Te Papa Tongarewa, Auckland City Art Gallery, Sue Cato (AUS), Chris and Kathy Parkin (NZ), Jenny Gibbs (NZ), Kevin Roberts (NZ), and the Chartwell Trust among others. Since 2006 he has turned to painting text, culminating in pure text in the 2010 MAORIMADE exhibition.