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Libraries’ Display a Global Perspective on Math

Graphic design by Daniel Opoku
Morgan Spehar
March 25, 2022

In celebration of the second annual Global Arts Festival at Ohio University, University Libraries is excited to host “Identimatics: Deciphering the Mathematical Grammar of Kente Patterns,” an exhibition by graphic design MFA candidate Daniel Asamoah Opoku. The exhibition will open March 30 on the third floor of Alden Library.

The Global Arts Festival celebrated 18 years of African Arts, 12 years of World Music and Dance, and the third year of the Global Arts Festival Symposium at OHIO. The festival in 2022 was March 21-26 and included lectures, music and dance performances and other activities.

“Identimatics” will include 9-10 woven textile pieces from Opoku’s graduate thesis work. He said that the goal of the exhibition is to draw attention to the inequalities found in teaching mathematics by presenting an alternative cultural interpretation of math.

“[T]he mathematics curriculum should be re-designed to acknowledge students’ native history and geographical interpretation of the subject,” Opoku wrote in a letter addressed to Alden Library. “This is the genesis of mathematics, where native concepts are articulated into formulas, except that other groups of people were not able to articulate their native mathematical findings...”

He went on to say that in his case, the Ghanaian cultural mathematics were destroyed during British colonialism in West Africa in the 1900s for political benefits.

Kente patterns are found on Kente, a Ghanaian textile made of silk and cotton. The geometric designs are hand-woven, and the cloth is synonymous with special occasions. Opoku put forward that, like a digital computer code, “Kente patterns, (analog) weaving formulas, are mathematics,” and the patterns are a way of visualizing their meaning.

“If this epistemological inequality in mathematics is not addressed, the subject will continue to be a screening device and a filter that discourages young students like me...from studying engineering, artificial intelligence and neuroscience. I no longer want to be a spectator of mathematics but a participator,” he said, “because ‘math’ is a verb.”

The exhibit and Opoku’s work critique Western ways of knowing and creating information. Including and promoting these critiques is central to the Libraries’ mission of confronting institutional bias to build diverse collections, equitable policies and inclusive practices.

Opoku’s research will likely be interesting to a broad audience, including mathematics majors, engineers, designers, educators and anyone interested in weaving, textiles or looking at mathematics through a different cultural lens.

Explore “Identimatics: Deciphering the Mathematical Grammar of Kente Patterns” on the third floor of Alden Library from March 30-April 4, 2022. The display is free and open to the public. For more information about the display, contact Michele Jennings, art librarian.