Nature's mathematical patterns inspire unique artworks

NMU’s Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Centre staff, from left, Prof Werner Olivier, Flora Olivier and Arnold Gwaze with the artwork they created that demonstrates the historic connections between maths and art in Africa
NMU’s Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Centre staff, from left, Prof Werner Olivier, Flora Olivier and Arnold Gwaze with the artwork they created that demonstrates the historic connections between maths and art in Africa
Image: Supplied

Mathematical patterns found in nature provided the inspiration for three unique artworks produced in Nelson Mandela Bay that have been selected for an international exhibition.

Created by staff at Nelson Mandela University’s Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Centre (GMMDC), the pieces will be showcased in Linz, Austria, from July 16 to 20.

This will be at the annual conference of the Bridges Organisation, a leading organisation globally which promotes research and interest in the connections between mathematics and art.

The conference brings together artists, musicians, mathematicians, scientists, computer scientists and educators to explore and develop the maths-art links in their work.

“Finding the links between maths and art is becoming a central paradigm in education.

“It aligns with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is shaping the world today,” GMMDC director Prof Werner Olivier – who created one of the selected pieces with his colleagues Flora Olivier and Arnold Gwaze – said.

Their piece – which uses Shweshwe fabric, cowrie shells and seed-beads to create a fractal pattern (a never-ending pattern) of the African continent in an ancient Roman-Greek mosaic style – was “inspired by the desire to create an original African statement about the historic connections between mathematics and art”.

“Africa is the cradle of mankind and also the custodian of a range of historic artefacts and geometric patterns of symbolic and cultural origin.

“A prime example is the geometric growth patterns found on cowrie shells, the world’s first currency, used more than 3,000 years ago,” Olivier said.

Flora Olivier created the second artwork, which depicts the shape of a fish, constructed using only a ruler and compass.

“It was fun finding creative ways to deal with the limited degrees of freedom afforded by the two basic construction tools,” she said.

The third piece, created by GMMDC staff member Victoria Shezi, was a collage of natural and manmade objects, arranged in the shape of Africa.

Titled Perfection under threat , the piece depicts the beauty, history and resilience of the continent, as well as the destruction of its natural environment.

“This mixed-media collage juxtaposes life and death, ancient and modern, people and places, land and sea,” Shezi said.

The Bridges Organisation is spearheading the new global shift towards Steam education, the acronym for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, and a variation on the better-known Stem education.

GMMDC is working with the department of basic education and schools across the Eastern Cape, to promote Steam in SA classrooms.

Steam has also been added to the technology-linked maths and science support the centre provides to high school pupils in disadvantaged communities across the province.

Each year, GMMDC runs its own math-art competition, open to school pupils across the country. More than 600 entries were received for the 2019 competition which closed at the start of May.

“Education needs to be adjusted to prepare learners for the future. The integrated use of ICT – a prime example of the connection between mathematics and creative design – is changing the way people live and work today,” Olivier said

“Children need to be exposed to innovative learning environments that combine practical, real-life experience and peer collaboration with digital innovation.”

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