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The symmetry of a face, the angles of a city skyline, the way fireflies start flickering in unison: Mathematical shapes and patterns are all around us – and they can take our breath away.

“Beautiful mathematics” was the theme of this year’s MathArt Competition, run annually by Nelson Mandela University’s Govan Mbeki’s Mathematics Development Centre (GMMDC) – and it drew more than 350 successful submissions from Grade 7 to 12 learners across the country, from Okiep to Nelspruit, Mthatha to Paarl, Durban to Gqeberha. 

“The MathArt competition aims to create awareness of the connections between mathematics and art, and is central to the vision and mandate of our centre to promote creative problem-solving and  STEAM education,” said GMMDC Director Prof Werner Olivier.

STEAM is the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics Education – a shift away from traditional STEM education, and a movement that has been embraced overseas, recognising the valuable role of creativity in the sciences in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Fifty judges working in national and international art, educational and mathematical fields had the gruelling task of selecting the top 20 finalists in each grade.

“Learners had to submit their entries online and then the top 20 in each grade had to send their artworks through to us, for final judging,” said GMMDC competition leader Carine Steyn. 

In addition to their artworks, which could be A4 to A2 size, and make use of any media on paper, from pencil to paint to embroidery and collage, the learners had to send written answers to three questions: What maths did you use? How does your artwork show “Beautiful Mathematics”? Explain why your artwork is creative and original.

“Some of our artworks had a COVID-19 theme. For instance, one artwork depicted a nurse and highlighted the beauty of precise measurements of oxygen levels and medicine,” said Steyn.

One of the gold winners, Grade 7 learner Kim Davids at Erica Girls Primary in Gqeberha, depicted a learner in a mask and was titled “The wonders of maths during lockdown”.

But most learners steered away from the pandemic, with many depicting mathematics in nature or manmade structures – ranging from the Fibonacci spiral in a chameleon’s tail, to patterns in the stars, to the intricate architecture of Big Ben.

“As always, we were blown away by the talent of our learners – and how they took this year’s topic and really dived into it,” said Steyn.

The other gold winners were: Grade 8 learners Kari de Kock from El Shaddai Christian School in Durbanville, Western Cape and Abigail Dollenberg from Penryn College in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga;  Grade 9 learner Amore Snyman from Paarl Gymnasium, Western Cape; Grade 10 learner Lukhanyo Gaisa from Harvest Christian School in Gqeberha; Grade 11 learner Annabell Ooshuizen from Andrew Rabie High in Gqeberha; and Grade 12 learner Alisha Atwaru (awarded posthumously) who attended the online Teneo School, and lived in Pietermaritzburg.

Silver winners included Grade 7 Erica Girls learners Fhedzi Tyala and Zenathi Manzini, Grade 8 Penryn learner Bongi Ngoma; Grade 9 learners Amkitha Fetsha from Westering High, Gqeberha and Emma van der Waal from Bridge House School in Franschoek; Grade 10 Paarl Gymnasium learner Hano Nieuwoudt; Grade 11 homeschooler Kaylee Fittock, based in Cape Town; and Grade 12 Okiep High learner Duncan Langdown. 

Bronze winners were Grade 7 learners Hendrick Strauss from Calvinia Primary, Northern Cape and Stephen Douglas-Henry from Grey Junior, Gqeberha; Grade 8 Penryn learner Jodi-Lee Clarke; Grade 9 learner Karabo Thovhakale from Mitchell House in Polokwane, Limpopo; Grade 10 Penryn learner Jun-Hee Yoo; Grade 11 Wynberg Girls’ High learner Caitlin Joseph; and Grade 12 learner Sapna Pramjee from Eden College in Durban.

Several other learners received “highly-commended” awards for their artworks.

PANDEMIC INSPIRATION: “The wonders of maths during lockdown”, created by Grade 7 learner Kim Davids, from Erica Girls’ Primary in Gqeberha, won gold in the MathArt competition.

MATHEMATICAL PATTERNS IN NATURE: “Divinely proportioned”, by Grade 9 Paarl Gymnasium learner Amore Snyman, received a gold award.

NATURAL BEAUTY: “The infinity belle”, by Grade 11 learner Annabell Oosthuizen from Andrew Rabie High in Gqeberha, received a gold award.

PICASSO-INSPIRED: “The Minted Mrs”, an artwork by Grade 9 learner Amkitha Fetsha from Westering High in Gqeberha, received a silver award.

PART ART, PART MATHS: “Dichotomy”, by Grade 11 Okiep High learner Duncan Langdown, received a silver award.

ALL IN SYNCH: “Beauty in spontaneous order”, by Grade 12 learner Sapna Pramjee from Eden College in Durban, received a bronze award.

TIMELESS ARCHITECTURE: “Father Time”, a study of London’s Big Ben by Grade 10 Paarl Gymnasium learner Hano Nieuwoudt, received a silver award.

SKYLINE PERFECTION: “Therefore Maths = Art”, by Grade 8 learner Kari de Kock from El Shaddai Christian School in Durbanville, won a gold award.

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777