Professor’s “Deep-Play” on exhibit at museum

April 8, 2015
Punya Mishra at a gallery event for "Deep-Play" in February.

Punya Mishra at a gallery event for “Deep-Play” in February.

An exhibit on display at the MSU Museum combines math, art, typography and visual perception all into one. Presented by Punya Mishra, professor of Educational Psychology and Educational Technology (EPET) and director of the Master of Arts in Educational Technology program, the “Deep-Play: Creativity in Math & Art through Visual Wordplay” exhibit invites visitors to look deeply at and interact with the ambigrams on display.

Ambigrams are a way of writing words so they can be read multiple ways—for example, some can be read forwards and backwards, where others need to utilize mirrors or rotated to be read. Mishra uses them to show the context of space, symmetry and special relationships using math and art as a basis. For Mishra, it all started out as a pet project that grew to something more.

A look at some of the ambigrams in Mishra's exhibit.

A look at some of the ambigrams in Mishra’s exhibit.

“I started [drawing ambigrams] because it was a nice, interesting puzzle to play with over time, and it gives some underlying context to the math of space—things like rotation, translation and reflection,” Mishra said in a segment on Stateside, a program for Michigan Radio. “As I explored that, it became this fascinating, interesting learning experience for me … It became a space to think and play.”

The exhibit at MSU, which was co-created with EPET doctoral student Sandra Sawaya, is designed to give visitors a sensory workout, with designs ranging from basic to challenging, and also including puzzles and others games to play to learn more about ambigrams.

Play is an integral part of ambigrams and research for Mishra—and it all connects to his research with creativity and how creative teachers work.

“Math isn’t just something we learn in school, we can play with it too. We’ve made this subject so dull and routine, and it’s not playful anymore. Play has a role in creativity in teaching and learning,” he said. “We’ve taken out the exploratory nature. I’m neither a designer nor a mathematician, but [ambigrams] allow me to play with those things more.”

A close-up of the good/evil ambigram.

A close-up of the good/evil ambigram.

Mishra’s work with ambigrams has been recognized outside of MSU as well. One of his more popular ambigrams, “good and evil,” was shown on “Brain Games” on the National Geographic Channel. Mishra has several articles about ambigrams published on “At Right Angles,” a math educators’ journal; all of the current articles can be found here. Additionally, Mishra is working on a book about ambigrams.

The “Deep-Play” exhibit is open at the MSU Museum until June 30.

More information on Mishra’s research on deep-play can be found at the research group’s website, or on Mishra’s personal website.

All photos courtesy of Shreya Mishra.