Change the world


“MATHEMATICS is all around us, whether we are [aware of it or not].” So says Mia Brettell of East London’s Grens High, who created a human face entirely out of mathematical shapes as her entry in the Eastern Cape’s first Math-Art competition, run by Nelson Mandela University’s Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Centre (GMMDC).

Brettell was one of 113 entrants from 36 high schools across the province, whose maths-inspired artworks are on display at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Gallery until May 25. From next year, the competition will be run nationally.

GMMDC director Prof Werner Olivier said the competition arose out of the international education trend called STEAM – the acronym standing for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths.

“STEAM is a more modern approach to mathematics, where pupils are encouraged to explore the links between mathematics and the arts. A lot of entrants linked their creation to nature,” said Olivier.

Among these were KwaMagxaki High’s Masixole Mangwana, who created an abstract aloe plant using triangles and circles. Other nature-inspired pieces included a “Pythagorean peacock” by Fatima-Zahra Hoosain of Nasruddin Islamic School, and an artwork depicting the cycle of life by Sinovuyo Nkola from Strelitzia High in Uitenhage.

Westville Secondary School’s Kyle Jooste chose to show the link between engineering and geometry with an innovative car design.

Participants in three categories – Grade 8 to 9, Grade 10 to 12, and students and teachers of maths – had to explain the maths-art connection in their artworks in a short essay. They could draw their inspiration from their CAPS maths curriculum at school, or from mathematically-correct designs found in nature, such as snowflakes, or traditional culture, such as Xhosa beadwork.  

“There was so much innovation and creativity in the connections they portrayed,” said Olivier. These connections were also indicative of the social consciousness of young people today. Some of the art works depicted their socio-economic circumstances, while others made political connections.”

Winners will be announced on May 25 at a prize-giving at the gallery, which will also form part of GMMDC’s GeoGebra conference, which is promoting STEAM activities to popularise the study of maths in the classroom and elsewhere.  Prizes includes art supplies and tablets.

The judging panel included staff from the university’s School of Music, Art and Design (SoMAD), GMMDC staff, representatives from the Department of Basic Education, and an independent artist.

“The artworks were judged on the creativity [demonstrated] to link maths and art,” said GMMDC’s Carine Steyn, who coordinated the competition. 

 “Our first Math-Art competition has been a great success – and has certainly generated an excitement for maths and STEAM education among pupils and teachers in this province.

“We are looking forward to expanding this project to all of South Africa next year.”

A short promotional video on the Math-Art competition can be viewed at:

“Math-O-Man”, a man created out of mathematical shapes by Mia Brettell from East London’s Grens High, is on display at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Gallery.

“Mathematics in Africa” by Zikhona Xongo from Get Ahead College in Queenstown. 

“Sacred Aloe” by Masixole Mangwana, from KwaMagxaki High in Port Elizabeth. 

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Ms Zandile Mbabela
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Tel: 0415042777