African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design

November 1, 2020
African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design

Fractals are characterized by the repetition of similar patternsat ever-diminishing scales. Fractal geometry has emerged as one ofthe most exciting frontiers on the border between mathematics andinformation technology and can be seen in many of the swirlingpatterns produced by computer graphics. It has become a new toolfor modeling in biology, geology, and other natural sciences.Anthropologists have observed that the patterns produced indifferent cultures can be characterized by specific design themes.In Europe and America, we often see cities laid out in a gridpattern of straight streets and right-angle corners. In contrast,traditional African settlements tend to use fractalstructures-circles of circles of circular dwellings, rectangularwalls enclosing ever-smaller rectangles, and streets in which broadavenues branch down to tiny footpaths with striking geometricrepetition. These indigenous fractals are not limited toarchitecture; their recursive patterns echo throughout manydisparate African designs and knowledge systems. Drawing oninterviews with African designers, artists, and scientists, RonEglash investigates fractals in African architecture, traditionalhairstyling, textiles, sculpture, painting, carving, metalwork,religion, games, practical craft, quantitative techniques, andsymbolic systems. He also examines the political and socialimplications of the existence of African fractal geometry. His bookmakes a unique contribution to the study of mathematics, Africanculture, anthropology, and computer simulations.