Shane Cotton (Ngāti Hine and Ngāti Rangi, Ngāpuhi) and Robert Jahnke (Te Whānau a Rakairoa, Ngāti Porou) are two local Māori artists with established national and international reputations.
They teach Māori visual art together in the Department of Māori Studies at Massey University. They have produced some works collaboratively before but this is the first time they have had a joint exhibition.
Both artists have previously concentrated on the history of interactions between Māori and Pākehā and how this has been expressed in two-way cultural borrowings. Shane Cotton, for example, has included references to painted images on meeting houses from around the turn of the century. These were pictures of such things as pots, flags, birds, people, trees and ships in which Māori appropriated the Western technique of realistic painting for their own ends.
The underlying reference of this exhibition is the Government’s “fiscal envelope” proposal. Given the interest of these two artists in both the collisions and mutual assimilations of Māori and Pākehā cultures this seems a logical development. For many Māori the proposal has both encapsulated and brought to a head more than a century and a half of dealing with Pākehā – and the accompanying misunderstandings and injustices.
Robert Jahnke’s rubber stamp sculptures in the exhibition refer to this history. They bear the words “not negotiable,” suggesting bureaucracy, authority and the inflexible imposition of legislation on Māori.
Shane Cotton’s painting In the red shows a vertical sequence of landscape scenes in which the land becomes smaller and smaller towards the top of the painting. Read upwards it could be taking the wider view and referring to the history of land loss of Māori (or continuing alienation); downwards it is more positive, suggesting recent land restoration in particular instances.
Both artists show the land overlain with grids, maps, and writing, symbolic of imposed, Pākehā ways of thinking that has taken little account of how Māori view the land – something that is a part of their identity and is not “ownable” in the Pākehā sense.
→ Rich pickings for critics and philosophers, New Zealand Herald, 06-09-1995