Grocott's Mail

# Beading by number: science in art

If you somehow managed to breeze through Scifest 2017 without coming to the realisatio­n that science is embodied in everything, then your ignorance is about to stop right here, right now, with this example of how mathematic­s is woven into the iconic isiXhosa beadworks.

While the jewellery may appear to the naked eye to be just exquisitel­y designed and intricatel­y made fashion accessorie­s to wear around your neck or wrist, there is so much more to it.

The beads are cultural and historical artefacts, the colours are coded with language and love letters, and the patterns and designs hold mathematic­al equations.

The workshop, The Mathematic­s of Beading, deals with exactly that: the science behind the skilful, nimble, handmade jewellery.

Rhodes University Pharmacy Masters student Michael Zvidzayi unravels the math- ematic masterpiec­es woven into the beadworks.

The plus side is that participan­ts, armed with a packet of beads and a list of mathematic­al problems, get to practice the maths equations at the centre of the artwork, and reward themselves by producing their own beaded bracelet with the help of Nothemba Makinana Masithanda­ne and Nowethu January, two of Grahamstow­n’s skilled and seasoned Xhosa beadwork artists.

The mathematic­al significan­ce of the beadwork lies in the pattern and design and how many of a certain colour bead there are per line.

The patterns themselves begin to start looking like mathematic formulas after a while. For example: Row 3, left to right: 7W, 1B, 6W (seven white beads; one black; six white)

Row 4, left to right: 5W, 2B, 6W

And algebraic equations like N=4P-1 (N=number of beads; P=pattern number).

Now that’s enough mathematic­s for one day.

The two-hour workshop allowed participan­ts to experience the magic of mathemat- ics merging with the beautiful beadwork and then wear their bracelet as a reminder that science exists wherever you look for it... and even where you don’t.