High school pupils from across South Africa have won accolades for depicting the links between maths and art in unique and vibrant artworks, in the first nationally-run mathematical art competition.
The top-placed winners in the competition, run by Nelson Mandela University’s Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Centre (GMMDC), drew their inspiration from the repeated mathematical patterns evident in ancient Khoi and San cave paintings and traditional Zulu beadwork, the mathematical make-up of well-known manmade landmarks, and even the mathematical mysteries of outer space. Others looked for the maths-art connection in majestic animals, including rhinos and cheetahs.
“We were thrilled at the high calibre of the 600 entries we received, although it was a tremendous battle to choose the 12 overall winners,” said GMMDC competition coordinator Carine Steyn.
The top 40 entries will be exhibited at the international Bridges Conference in Linz, Austria from July 14 to 20, which promotes research and interest in the connections between maths and art.
The competition was open to all high school pupils, who could enter artworks in two categories “maths in nature” or “maths in manmade designs”. They were adjudicated not only on artistic merit, but on how they represented the links between mathematics and the arts.
First in the “maths in nature” (Grade 10 to 12) category was Lauren Damstra from Eunice Girls High School in Bloemfontein, whose artwork “Infinity” used the vastness of outer space to represent “the terror of things we don’t know”.
“I chose this topic because it’s something I often think about. The uncertainty of science and maths beyond space deeply unsettles me, but the best we can do is keep progressing and finding new patterns to make what was once scary, normal,” said Lauren.
Placed second was Kara van Heerden from Framesby High in Port Elizabeth, with her artwork “The functions of a zebra”, with Dorina Cherneva from Eden College in Durban coming third, with her artwork “Tranquility”.
The Grade 8 to 9 winners in the same category were Luke Ferreira from Redhill High in Johannesburg, for his exploration of mathematical patterns in cave art, in his artwork “Pale Face”. Placed second and third respectively were Eunice Girls’ High’s Feng-Mei Chuang for “Romanesco Spiral”, and Erin Powers from the Diocesan School for Girls in Grahamstown for “Patterns of the Golden Ratio”.
First in the Grade 10 to 12 “maths in manmade designs” category was Morgan Durrheim from Beaconhurst High in East London, whose artwork “Hidden Mathematics” showed “many examples of applying mathematics for our own benefit”. Her mixed-media artwork showed famous ancient and modern landmarks, from the Pyramids of Giza to Disneyland’s famous castle.
In second place was Sibangeni Matsa from the University of Johannesburg’s Metropolitan Academy, who chose to draw attention to the pending extinction of rhinos through poaching, in his pencil sketch of a rhino constructed out of metal, titled “Same Difference”. Third place went to Busisiwe Mbonani from Sir Pierre van Ryneveld High (Johannesburg) with her Ndebele-inspired artwork “Ithuthumbo”.
The top three winners in the Grade 8 to 9 “maths in manmade designs” category were Caitlin Wilde from Fish Hoek high School in Cape Town, for her “Heritage Mandala”, inspired by traditional Zulu patterns, followed by Kiara Knopfmachter from Redhill High In Johannesburg for the ballet-inspired “Geometrics of Dancing” and Hano Nieuwoudt, from Paarl Gymnasium with “Ngesivinni”, showing the links between the speed of a cheetah and the fighter aircraft jet named after it.
All the winners received cash vouchers and book prizes – and Eunice High School in Bloemfontein was recognized for submitting the most entries.
The maths-art link is part of a new global trend in education called STEAM, the acronym standing for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics, which GMMDC is promoting in South African classrooms.
“The Math-Art competition project adds an innovative educational layer to our centre’s technology-blended approach to the teaching and learning of maths and science,” said GMMDC director Prof Werner Olivier.
“It aims to develop creative young minds and also build awareness around the skills challenges they will face in their future careers in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”