#SciComm Mathematics

Portraits from the Pandemic: a mathematician’s artistic perspective

by Wiida Fourie-Basson

From old souls who collect teas from across the world, to a burnt-out lawyer and a writer who has lost her sparkle. For those of us still dealing with intense anxiety and burnout after the pandemic, the quaint watercolour-painted characters in Portraits from the Pandemic remind us “that we are all united in our brokenness”.

Portraits from the Pandemic is written and illustrated by Karin-Therese Howell, a mathematician and associate professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stellenbosch University.

The mother of two created and painted 40 unique sketches of a range of forest folk writing about their experiences during the pandemic to the local forest newspaper, The Daily Oak. This was her way of dealing with the stress and anxiety of living through the unknowns of the pandemic and the hard lockdown.

Prof Karin-Therese Howell. Photo: Jeanne Taylor
Portraits from the Pandemic is written and illustrated by Karin-Therese Howell, a mathematician and associate professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stellenbosch University. Photo: Jeanne Taylor

These forest folk include, inter alia, a dedicated Grade 2 teacher, an emphatic architect, a mathematician suffering from imposter syndrome, the owner of a bakery, a recent divorcee, a married couple seeking counseling, a depressed journalist and a stressed-out student in mathematics living on coffee and Red Bull.

But while all of this may sound quite depressing, the beauty of the characters is found in how they are portrayed as sensitive souls, dealing with intense burnout and anxiety in their own special ways. Jeff the journalist, for example, has learnt to cope with his depression “by viewing the world upside down while breathing deeply and engaging all his senses”. Christopher the burnt-out lawyer has quit his high-flying career and now works in a pet shop, living with his four pet mice on a small holding.

A few of the characters are also dealing with neuro-diversity challenges. The little owl character Lisa, for example, has auditory processing disorder. Because she was only diagnosed as a teen, many lyrics of the A-Ha songs she memorised are wrong. But that does not disturb Lisa:

“She thinks many of them are more beautiful as she has them stored. Sound is a colour for Lisa, and silence a rainbow”, reads the sketch.

Fundamental to each sketch is a deep empathy and the believe that “no hare should be left behind, excluded or just accommodated”. That is why the last three characters in the book are Daisy, Lilly and Rosy. They are three moms who have started a campaign for the inclusion of neuro-diverse children at schools.

With this little book, Karin-Therese also wants to raise awareness of a poorly understood neurodevelopmental condition called development coordination disorder (DCD) that remains largely undiagnosed, even though it affects up to 7% of school-going children in the United States.

According to Dr Eileen Africa from the Division of Movement Science and Exercise Therapy at SU, children with development coordination disorder (DCD) typically present with poor postural control, lower muscle tone, slower movements, delayed action and -response times and coordination. But while the gross motor delays typically associated with DCD are easily observable with the naked eye, these difficulties are often misunderstood as laziness or behavioral problems.

“They tend to be viewed and labelled as clumsy and uncoordinated and are often teased or bullied by their peers. They struggle with daily activities such as riding a bicycle, getting dressed, eating, self-care, and many other skills that otherwise come naturally to a neurotypical child of the same age,” Dr Africa explains.

This condition can persist into adulthood and therefore early recognition, diagnosis and intervention are paramount.

Portraits from the Pandemic is available in two formats and is available in major book and gift  stores or can be ordered directly from the author: Insta: jupiterjune612, Facebook: karinthereseart

“I hope readers will sense some parts of themselves in these sketches,” she writes: “We are all a little broken and doing our best.”

* Portraits from the Pandemic is available in two formats and is available in major book and gift  stores or can be ordered directly from the author: Insta: jupiterjune612, Facebook: karinthereseart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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