Panya Routes: Independent Art Spaces in Africa

ACC Research Associate Dr Kim Gurney has published a new book Panya Routes: Independent Art Spaces in Africa, with Motto Books.

The book is the result of a four-year research project, Platform/ Plotform, led by Gurney into the working principles of independent art spaces in five fast-changing cities: Nairobi, Accra, Cairo, Addis Ababa and Dar es Salaam. It makes correlations between art and the urban everyday to convey shared ideas around horizontality, second chance, performativity, elasticity and convergence. In short, it’s about DIY-DIT institution building as artistic practice, or doing things with art.

The text considers how independent spaces deal with uncertainty and flux, and what other institutions can glean from long-standing platforms built for purpose not profit. It also reflects upon how these platforms act as urban indicators and as vectors of futures thinking. For researchers, there is a section on method and a collation of allied texts on the subject matter.

The key spaces that participated in the research were: GoDown Arts Centre, ANO Institute of Arts and Knowledge, Townhouse Gallery, Zoma Museum and Nafasi Art Space. The book includes elegant maps designed by Bella Knemeyer that situate these spaces in their urban context, some fieldwork visuals by the author, and a visual essay. The book is designed by Márcia Novais to give artistic form to the content matter, and is edited by Mika Hayashi Ebbesen.

In an engaging analysis of five African independent art spaces Kim Gurney convincingly highlights the powerful artistic and political potential of such autonomous art initiatives: to formulate novel propositions that creatively engage with the continent’s varied social realities; to redesign its material realities; to innovate the contents of what constitutes its public spheres; and to generate imaginings of alternative futures that bypass the tired discourses and practices of institutionalized political levels in order to embrace more inclusive and collective modes of living together. Panya Routes is an original, hopeful and timely reflection on the role of public art to rethink urban worlds in Africa and beyond. ​

Filip De Boeck
Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology
Co-author of Suturing the City. Living Together in Congo’s Urban Worlds

According to Vyjayanthi Roa, Visiting Professor, Yale School of Architecture and Senior Editor of Public Culture, this beautifully crafted book represents a new generation of scholarship, bringing together the fields of urban studies and art history. While cities and urbanization are themselves formal manifestations of the intersections across economy, politics and aesthetics that define modern life, the role of creative practice as a form of sociality is under theorized. 

“Kim Gurney explores that role in the making of new urban societies in the Global South. She shows how Panya Routes or “backroad infrastructures” that define Southern cities are neither temporary nor epiphenomenal but rather major forms for the formation of collective solidarities.  A much needed volume, it explores the emergence of new institutions as themselves a genre of art.  This book is a tour de force of creative research and writing and should inform and serve the next generation of urban scholars with a new vision of how contemporary forms of art making and creative performance have become an integral part of the infrastructure of social and political life in the 21st century,” writes Rao.

Evocatively written, Panya Routes juxtaposes five stories about the creation of independent art spaces on the African continent. At a time of heightened capitalist co-option and the concomitant fetishization of ‘African art’, these stories about agential capacity, abilities to shapeshift, and ways of ‘doing art’, importantly position African creatives at the forefront of our contemporary moment of thinking in excess of the art world status quo.

Ruth Simbao
National Research Foundation SARChI chair in Geopolitics and the Arts of Africa

Panya Routes is Kim’s third book, published together with ACC, all of which link art, city life and the public sphere. Her other books are August House is Dead, Long Live August House! The Story of a Johannesburg Atelier and The Art of Public Space: Curating and Re-imagining the Ephemeral City.

To purchase a copy visit Motto Books, also available on Amazon.

This book was made possible with generous support from Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona and South African Research Chair in Urban Policy.