Graffiti and Mathematics is an activity that turns a group of secondary school students into outreach actors by producing an unconventional outreach material: a mathematical graffiti. The transversality of the two areas (one would not necessarily expect a student good at maths to be good at graffiti, and viceversa) makes the activity reach an a priori uninterested, as well as diverse, audience. It thus contributes to broadening and increasing the social visibility of mathematics, fighting against the stereotypes of boredom and tediousness, through showing the recreational and artistic aspects.
This unusual combination is born out of the need to reach uninterested audiences. A very involving outreach talk will grab the attention of the motivated students, but an unmotivated one can easily remain passive. We are able to engage some of these students in our activity by breaking down three borders: the border of the expected subject, the border of the expected format, and especially, the border of the actor/spectator scheme.
How does it work?
A contest of mathematical drafts is advertised in September to choose a group of students who have generally demonstrated originality in their drafts and/or a good graffiti technique, credited by photographs of their work. The selected students work under the supervision of the artist Digo.Art to create a sketch of a common graffiti to be painted. They also receive mathematical advice from researchers from the ICMAT (Institute for the Mathematical Sciences, Madrid), whose suggestions try to explain and highlight the mathematical content. The graffiti is finally painted during the Madrid Science Week about the middle of November. The organization provides all the necessary material. After the activity, the participants receive a selection of books which try to show the visual beauty of mathematics and science.
What is the outcome?
The first graffiti was painted on a wall where the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), the historical cultural centre Residencia de Estudiantes and the secondary school Ramiro de Maeztu meet . This wall was regularly graffitied over, however, the graffiti has been respected since November 2009 and is still visible. The graffiti depicts in purple and yellow shades the words “grafitti” and “maths”, the face of Hipatia with superimposed golden rectangles, and a planetary model based on polyhedra from Kepler’s “Mysterium Cosmographicum”. The main element is the face of Albert Einstein with a quote allegedly attributed to him. This quote was suggested by one of the participants and matched exactly the spirit of the activity: “If you want different results, do not always do the same.”
The second edition introduced a novel physical support: a wooden cube of 3m of edge. Blue and green shades were used to represent, among others, a Penrose tribar with the word maths, a human face made only out of numbers, Pythagoras captured by his theorem, a fractal tree from where Newton observes falling apples, the countability of the rational numbers and the uncountability of the real numbers
For the third edition, an altarpiece shape wooden structure (5m long by 2.5m height) consisting of four panels which can be folded was used. The turn came for Gauss, the art of Escher and the theory of chaos in grey, blue and orange shades.
Who cares about it?
Apart from involving a group of students actively in outreach, the other main target of the activity is catching the attention of a general audience by the final product, as well as by the development. Graffiti and Mathematics has drewn the attention of the media, as shown in the first page of the Madrid section in the newspaper "El País" as well as in two pieces of news in the TV channel Telemadrid. On the Internet, the video on YouTube about the first edition has received 1892 visits from 57 countries, of which 597 were made from out of Spain. And since October 2011, the website has received 837 visits from 26 countries, However, the impact must not only rely on figures. Some repeated participants have considerably sophisticated their drafts (for instance, from the somehow commonplace of Einstein to Ramanujan, not so well known among secondary school students). One participant has even shown us a graffiti of a pyramid and other geometrical shapes made by himself on his own initiative. This is the best proof to show that we are on the right path to attaining our objectives.
What is next?
There is plans for an exhibition across secondary schools in the region of Madrid. The altarpiece graffiti can be folded and easily transported. It will be joined by explainatory panels about the contents of the graffiti. The cube (3m edge) of the second edition is ready to be exhibited. However, due to its large dimensions, it is more likely to be exhibited permanently in somewhere on the UAM campus, for example, the entrance to a building, or a roundabout.
For the next edition, we are thinking about the idea of painting onto a big canvas, next to the Prado Museum or the Reina Sofia Museum, both very visible and meaningful locations. In this case, we will try to incorporate an artistic citation in the graffiti. Perhaps Flemish School precision? Or Picasso’s cubism? We will know the answer next November.
IES Ramiro de Maeztu
IES Beatriz Galindo