Wednesday 28 February 2024

A playful look at mathematics: Keisha Thompson's DeCipher project wins the fifth Opera North / University of Leeds DARE Art Prize

Keisha Thompson (Photo: Elmi Ali)
Keisha Thompson (Photo: Elmi Ali)

Manchester-based writer, performer, producer and maths educator Keisha Thompson has been announced as the fifth winner of the annual DARE Art Prize. DARE is a partnership between the University of Leeds and Opera North, and in association with the National Science and Media Museum and The Tetley, Leeds, and the prize challenges artists and scientists to collaborate on new approaches to the creative process.

Keisha Thompson’s project DeCipher takes a playful look at mathematics, aiming to place the subject at the heart of everyday life – literally ‘deciphering’ what many people perceive to be a difficult topic to underline its relevance and make it more accessible to everyone. Recognising that knowledge around mathematical topics, such as coding and economics, gives individuals an advantage in society, Keisha is looking to create an interactive performance piece which delves into the power dynamics attached to mathematics as content, history, pedagogy, and culture. Her work also acknowledges that the history of mathematics needs to be ‘decolonised’ with Asian and African voices having effectively been forgotten in the classroom. 

Keisha Thompson explains: "Mathematics has always been a creative subject for me. I was introduced to it via puzzles and games before I started school. When I got in the classroom, it was like meeting an old friend. However, as I moved through the education system, I found that I was in the minority in this experience.  I want to use my skill, experience, and enthusiasm to create engagements and outputs that support a new cultural appreciation for mathematics."

In 2021, Keisha Thompson was awarded one of Opera North's Resonance residencies to develop The Bell Curve, a new play exploring the ethics of DNA hacking technology commissioned by Eclipse Theatre, Yorkshire Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre.

The four past Prize winners have each interacted with the work of the University and Opera North in unexpected, illuminating and very different ways, from working with infrasound, climatology, the environment and the paranormal, to exploring AI and insect biodiversity. Last year’s recipient, Essex-based sculptor Katie Surridge, worked with teams at the University to address the problem of e-waste and the valuable resources, including gold, silver, copper, platinum, aluminium and cobalt, that are present in discarded electronic devices. Katie used these to produce new sculptures, one of which has been purchased by the Science Museum in London, redefining perceptions around what is considered redundant and worthless.

Further details from the Opera North website.

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