Learning and creating designs with African Fractals

Many African designs are based on "fractals" -- patterns that repeat themselves at many scales (also called "scaling patterns"). To learn more you can order the book African Fractals by clicking here

African fractals: the TED video

Creating fractals with recursive line replacement (applet inspired by Peter Van Roy)

Mathematicans in the 19th and early 20th century invented several fractal patterns.
One classic example is the Koch curve.

Later Benoit Mandelbrot showed the practical application to modeling natural objects:

This fern is classic, and many algae are good examples, as are lungs. I've looked at clouds from both sides now.

Fractal shapes abound in traditional African designs, from architecture to textiles.

Logone-Birni, a fractal city in Cameroon

Mokoulek, another fractal in Cameroon

A Bamileke farm

A Ba-ila settlement

Modern fractal architecture in Africa: Kitwe Community Clinic


Ethiopian cross

Sierpinski triangle: similar structures in cloth, stone and brass


Creating fractals with transformational geometry

One African fractal design that is also part of African American innovation in the U.S. is the scaling pattern of cornrow hairstyles.

Another scaling design from Africa is this Mangbetu ivory sculpture

Logarithmic scaling in an african windscreen

You can build a paper model to explore scaling patterns in an African windscreen

Numeric recursion

Some examples of recursion in African material culture are numeric. The "marching formation" in the game of Owari offers insight into African concepts of iteration, self-organization, and related phenomena. Click here to experiment with these numeric patterns.

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