Sims Dixie flag art.
Sims Dixie flag art.

He’s not asking for a friend. He’s asking for himself. Sims, an African-American man, born in Detroit, living in the American South, is intensely aware of his racial identity. This is evidenced by his Confederate flag projects, which include holding “cremations” for the Dixie symbol and reworking the controversial emblem in colors that change the viewer’s relationship to the sign.

He also has an alter ego, an “Afro-German Jewish math art poet” named Johannes Curtis Schwarzenstein, who is featured in a 2012 video reciting a “concrete math art poem” in German. Sims’ point in adopting this character with a last name that translates to “black stone,” he tells me, is that we don’t know just by looking at each other who we are—not even the seemingly obvious things like our racial origins or the more individual characteristics, like our references and interests. “I had a lot of Jewish math teachers,” he adds.

Sims is interested in the way identities are formed, how we construct ourselves and how the gaze of others constructs us. “When I see you seeing me it changes how I see myself,” he says. And he’s interested in the intersection of identities, what happens when people and ideas meet.

For this reason, Sims enlisted the local Sarasota Amish community in his mathematical art projects. After doing a series of visualizations of pi and its bases, he joined forces with a local quilt shop to stitch his works into what became a “quilted manifesto.”

Sims traded African fabrics with the crafters, beginning the unlikely relationship that led to the creation of 13 quilts exploring pi and identity, all of which he’s also stitched together visually into the “civil pi movement,” as he puts it. “The math quilts each speak to each other like one speaks to negative one,” the artist says. “And the hyper quilt connects them all.”

Sims has since designed dresses based on these works and is hoping to put out a Pi Day collection. His approach to everything is interdisciplinary. He teams up with choreographers and musicians to create videos, including a “Pi Day Anthem” that doubles as a cool display for a club—and would probably work as a teaching tool, too.

He’s composed for the piano using pi mapped into the key of B-flat. “You hear how the melody never repeats?” he asks as he plays a recording of “The Pi Notes.” I’m not discerning enough to pick up this bit of musical and mathematical cleverness myself.

Besides pi, Sims has other math preoccupations. He’s interested in the square root of trees and the square root of love as areas of exploration. “Love over money is greater than money over love,” he says, pointing out one of the calculations on a print on the wall in red, black, and silver on a white background that looks like a cross between a math primer and pop art.

Every Valentine’s Day, Sims releases a wine with a French vintner that features his poetic calculations on the label. Delightedly, Sims explains with a laugh that he was working on a novel with a mathematician protagonist who goes to France and takes to making wine and then it happened in real life before the book was even done.

You can tell just by looking at him that he’s having fun. Sims seems excited by the infinite possibilities that his math art exploration presents, the places it takes him, and the people and ideas he’s encountered over the last two decades. In the process, the artist has himself become a living manifestation of his own work on pi, crafting a sequence that has structure, a rhythm—with a melody that never quite repeats and that seems to have no end.

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