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04 June 2024

Zarah Hussain: "There's incredible beauty in maths."

Artist Zarah Hussain shares her interest in maths, the beauty it holds and the relationship between maths and art.

A close up photo of artist Zarah Hussain
Artist Zarah Hussain. Image courtesy of artist.

From 4-26 June, in a discovery space off the Strand, It All Adds Up: Global Discoveries in Maths will welcome a wide range of people, including secondary school students, to explore the evolution of maths. This free, interactive experience was conceived and proposed by King’s academics and students from the Department of Mathematics and brought to life collaborating with celebrated artist Zarah Hussain.

Zarah’s involvement with It All Adds Up started after she attended two seminars at King’s, on the invitation of Dr John Armstrong. At the first, academics explored art and global understanding of maths, and during the second, students revealed their own relationships with maths, arts and the global practices that resonated with their own cultural heritage.

‘In many ways, it was hearing from the students that really inspired me,’ Zarah shares. ‘I found their insights fascinating. A student of Chinese heritage shared the ways in which the abacus informed how maths evolved and still has its place in education today, which led me to think about my own influences.

‘I began to reflect further on maths as a continual universal language, with a myriad of cultural back stories. Every person uses maths in some way, every day, whether that’s shopping for a household, accounting, timetabling, or creating artwork. Our results from adding together a set of numbers will always be the same no matter where we are in the world, even though the methods we use to get there, depending on how we were taught, may be different.’

As a result of this inspiration, Zarah joined the team producing It All Adds Up as an artistic collaborator lending her own perspectives and not just around the global evolution of maths, but the beauty and creativity that maths lends itself to, drawing upon and sharing her own practises.

Zarah’s work integrates the pattern-making abilities of conventional mathematics with modern art, and her creative language reflects both the aesthetic traditions of traditional Islamic design and modern Western society. She combines this with mathematical art references such as geometric structures and tessellating patterns.

‘In traditional Islamic art, physical forms are sacred and do not feature,’ Zarah explains. ‘This is why you’ll see the incredible geometric patterns and tiling as artform, and I celebrate this in my work too.

‘As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time working mathematically, using geometry to create my pieces. I believe there’s incredible beauty in maths. That’s not what people may expect to hear from an artist, but there’s much more of an intersection between maths and art than most of us understand.’

 Root 2: Blue by Zarah Hussain currently on display in It All Adds Up: Global Discoveries in Maths
Root 2: Blue by Zarah Hussain currently on display in It All Adds Up: Global Discoveries in Maths

Two pieces of Zarah’s work, Root 2: Blue and Alhambra Squares, a lightbox inspired by the mosaic wall tiles from the Alhambra in Granada, Spain will feature in It All Adds Up, providing visitors with an opportunity to contemplate the relationship between maths and art, up close and personal. The discovery space will also feature tactile and interactive elements, proposed by King’s Department of Mathematics to explore concepts such as the Einstein shape, sphere packing, chaos theory and pi.

And what does Zarah hope visitors will take away from It All Adds Up? ‘I hope that they will take the time to look at maths in a different way and be inspired rather than intimidated, as many are. For some, maths has been demonised because it’s taught in such a didactic way and hopefully this experience will change some opinions and reintroduce a sense of curiosity around the evolution and beauty of maths.’

It All Adds Up: Global Discoveries in Maths will run from 4-26 June in the Discovery Space, Bush House, Strand, WC2B 4PJ. Open from 10am-6pm, Monday-Friday (Free).

This experience is free and open to people of all ages, and of particular interest to secondary school students in Years 9-11. It All Adds Up: Global Discoveries in Maths is produced and supported by King's Culture and funded by The Race Equity Inclusive Education Fund at King's. 

In this story

John Armstrong

Reader in Financial Mathematics

Eleni-Alexandra  Kontou

Lecturer in Theoretical Physics