LUNCHTIME LECTURE – KIM GURNEY: “Publishing as artistic practice”

Since 2015, Kim Gurney has published from arts-based research three books where contemporary art tells larger stories about the urban everyday, collective life, and social imaginaries, with a fourth in the works for 2023. These have generally focused upon ‘offspaces’ – exploring public space in Johannesburg inner-city through walking, new media and performance art; the artistic inner life of a studio building in existential limbo; the working principles of non-profit project spaces on the continent; and the invisible labours revealed by a back room institutional archive. Kim will share the processes behind assembling publications as creative outcomes which aim to perform the subject matter, and the challenges involved.

The books referenced in this talk are: The Art of Public Space: Curating and Re-imagining the Ephemeral City (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), August House is Dead, Long Live August House – The story of a Johannesburg Atelier (Fourthwall, 2017), Panya Routes: Independent art spaces in Africa (Motto, 2022), & Flipside – The Inadvertent Archive,which is currently in production with iwalewabooks (Bayreuth, Lagos & Jhb).

Dr Kim Gurney is based at the Centre for Humanities Research, University of the Western Cape, where she has been investigating sites of counterfactual imagination – independent art spaces, back room archives, and artisanal workshops. She brings a fusion of fine art, urban studies, and journalistic expertise together, favouring arts-based methods and experimenting with narrative forms. Her own art practice largely concerns disappearances of different kinds and makes restorative gestures – spanning studio work, public art, discourse and curation. She runs ad hoc a nomadic platform guerilla gallery; in 2023, it inhabits The Shed – a tiny space for big ideas. Kim has extensive experience as a writer and former editor in different genres, currently focused upon book projects.

Kim’s Panya Routes and August House is Dead, Long Live August House – The story of a Johannesburg Atelier are distributed by Karavan Press and Protea Distribution.

Nancy Richards interviews Kim Gurney about PANYA ROUTES

Artist, academic, writer Kim Gurney visited five different Independent Art Spaces in five different African cities: Nairobi, Accra, Addis Ababa, Cairo and Dar es Salaam. She came back with a changed mind, fresh thinking and some very different outlooks on the future, of art, cities and society in general. The result, a book to change your mind too, called Panya Routes (Motto).

Listen to her interview with Nancy Richards: KIM GURNEY – On ‘Panya Routes’

A panya route in Rosebank

One of the creatives Kim Gurney interviewed for her latest book, Panya Routes: Independent art space in Africa (Motto Books, 2022), Nana Oforiatta Ayim, the founder and director of the ANO Institute of Arts and Knowledge in Accra, said that she “wanted to set this place up so that others like me who wanted to write and express something could come and have a home, a place to think collectively, create, push boundaries.”

Earlier today, Kim was in discussion about Panya Routes with Joy Watson – both belong to the Rosebank Writes group, recently founded by Kim and other writers who live and work in and/or are affiliated with the suburb of Rosebank, Cape Town (we have a sister organisation in Johannesburg). The event was hosted by another member, Shireen Mall, in her beautiful lounge that was transformed into an independent art space for the day. Writers, readers and creatives gathered to celebrate the publication of Panya Routes (which Karavan Press and Protea Distribution have the honour of distributing in South Africa along independent panya routes of their own) and listen to Kim and Joy discuss the book, its origins and consequences.

It was a morning of illumination, and I cannot thank Kim, Joy, Shireen and all who attended, enough for inspiring us all to search for our individual panya routes which allow us to be creative in spaces where, in the words of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, “the progress of any one person is not dependent on the downfall of another” (quoted in Panya Routes).

Kim Gurney on a public panel about the politics, legacies and inheritances of independent spaces

Kim Gurney, the author of Panya Routes: Independent art spaces in Africa, is participating on a public panel in Cape Town on Saturday about the politics, legacies and inheritances of independent spaces. Along with: 

  • Ukhona Ntsali Mlandu, Director, Greatmore Studios
  • Nqaba Shakes Mbolekwana, Location Studio Practice 
  • Phokeng Setai, Interdisciplinary Scholar 
  • Itumeleng wa Lehulere, Revolutionary Papers

Date: 24 September

Time: 12h00-14h30

Venue: Theatre Arts Admin, Observatory 

The panel is part of ‘Power Talks’, convened by Goethe-Institut Johannesburg and African Centre for Cities, as a roving national series to unpack power mechanisms in the cultural world. The Cape Town iteration is curated by Ukhona Ntsali Mlandu, director of Greatmore Studios, to look beyond the trauma and violences of power and see what constructive manifestations of power might look, taste, sound and feel like. It involves sonic explorations, food networks, theatre explorations, and more. 

Event info here:

Session info:


PANYA ROUTES by KIM GURNEY launched at the A4 Arts Foundation

Last week Thursday, Panya Routes: Independent art spaces in Africa by Kim Gurney was launched at the A4 Arts Foundation. Kim was in conversation with Neo Muyanga.

“I travelled to five cities on the African continent at intervals during 2018 and 2019 to visit an independent art space in each. Panya Routes is an invitation to join this journey and discover how such spaces work, think and navigate conditions of constant flux. These independent art spaces form part of a larger family of small-scale platforms, often artist-led or with artistic thinking at heart, whose numbers have flourished in recent years although their existence can also be short-lived. This book focuses upon five case studies of such spaces that have all been active for more than a decade, thus offering compelling tales about sustaining non-profit and innovative practice in an increasingly commodified world. My visits, conducted as part of the African Centre for Cities research project Platform / Plotform, were timed to coincide with emblematic programming, predominant art in public spaces. And, where possible, other independently curated events and spaces from a street art festival to an “off-biennial” were considered in parallel in order to glean another reading on art in each city …” (Panya Routes, p. 9)

Thank you, Nancy Richards and Natalie Becker, for the photographs!

Karavan Press and Protea Distribution become local distribution partners for Kim Gurney’s ‘Panya Routes’ and ‘August House is Dead, Long Live August House!’

Kim Gurney by Daleen Nel Hall



Kim Gurney writes in multiple genres, and is the author of three non-fiction books: The Art of Public Space: Curating and Re-imagining the Ephemeral City (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), August House is Dead, Long Live August House! The Story of a Johannesburg Atelier (Fourthwall, 2017), and Panya Routes: Independent art spaces in Africa (Motto Books, 2022). Kim first worked as a journalist; she was News Editor of a weekly newspaper (FT Business Group) while in her twenties. She then pivoted into the artworld where she collaborates on public space interventions and makes slow art from a Salt River studio. Another foot is in academia: Kim is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Humanities Research, University of the Western Cape, and a Research Associate at African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town which supported the research behind Panya Routes. She holds advanced degrees in Journalism and Fine Art, both awarded with Distinction, a Masters in International Journalism, and a PhD exploring art as a vector of value. Kim lives in Cape Town, South Africa, working on her next creative non-fiction book Flipside.


Independent art spaces on the African continent have flourished, particularly over the past twenty years in tandem with a youthful population in fast-urbanising cities. This book takes the reader on a journey to discover their DIY-DIT working principles: horizontality, second chance, elasticity, performativity and convergence. The itinerary begins at an empty plinth in Cape Town to closely track the performative and artistic afterlife of a colonialist statue whose toppling turned public space into common space. Next stop: Nairobi, Accra, Cairo, Addis Ababa and Dar es Salaam — all rapidly changing cities of flux. The author visits five non-profit platforms that build narratives in public space by stitching together art and everyday life. They create their own panya routes, or backroad infrastructures of divergent kinds, in response to prevailing uncertainty. Working largely in collaborative economies and solidarity networks through refusal and reimagination, these “off-spaces” demonstrate institution building as artistic practice. By thinking and dreaming beyond the status quo, they fast-forward to creatively inhabit city futures that have already arrived in the global South. The key platforms featured in the book’s research are: The GoDown Arts Centre, ANO Institute of Arts and Knowledge, Townhouse Gallery, Zoma Museum and Nafasi Art Space.


“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 twenty-first century.”

— Vyjayanthi Rao, Senior Editor of the journal Public Culture, and Visiting Professor at Yale School of Architecture

“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, co-author of Suturing the City: Living Together in Congo’s Urban Worlds (Autograph, 2016)

“Gurney’s book deserves conversations with works on independent art spaces in Asian cities, where they have also been an important development in the last two decades. Gurney’s documentation and analysis are pioneering, and should inspire colleagues in Asia, because they are crucial in furthering the critical role of arts in contemporary dramatic transformation of their cities.”

— Marco Kusumawijaya, architect and urbanist, Director of RUJAK Center for Urban Studies in Jakarta

“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 artworld status quo.”

— Ruth Simbao, National Research Foundation SARChI Chair in Geopolitics and the Arts of Africa, and Head of the Arts of Africa and Global Souths Research Programme at Rhodes UniversityBottom of Form


Publisher: Motto Books, Berlin
Editor: Mika Hayashi Ebbesen
Designer: Márcia Novais
Publication date: August 2022
ISBN: 9782940672394


In the east end of the inner city of Johannesburg, a former textiles factory undergoes a dramatic transformation to become, over the next several years, one of the city’s foremost artists’ studios. When the sale of the building seems imminent, not only must the artists face the daunting prospect of relocation, but a remarkable chapter in the complex narrative of contemporary South African art seems about to close. Sensing the importance of this moment, Kim Gurney, herself a former tenant of the atelier, follows the stories of several of the August House denizens through some of the artworks that came to life in their studios. The result is a fascinating study of the role of the atelier and its artists in South Africa’s fractious art world, and a consideration of the relationship between art and the ever-changing city of Johannesburg.

PRAISE for August House is Dead, Long Live August House! The Story of a Johannesburg Atelier

With the eye of an urbanist, artist and resident, Kim Gurney [constructs] a compelling assemblage of individual, visual and urban narratives brilliantly illuminates the complex life of a building, August House, located in inner city Johannesburg. Her cast of characters – artists, workers, neighbours, August House and the city – lend poignant contours to the ebbs and flows of daily life, the pressures of gentrification, the ruthlessness of poverty, the radicality of the imagination and the ghosts of history.

—Mabel O. Wilson, Columbia University

Kim Gurney’s biography of August House weaves together a diversity of … narratives that capture an intimate, layered view of a city in flux and the precarity of artists’ spaces in Johannesburg. August House is Dead, Long Live August House! sensitively explores the tensions between competing impulses in the city, and who ultimately gets to shape what Joburg is and who it is for.

—Mpho Matsipa, University of the Witwatersrand

August House is Dead, Long Live August House! The Story of a Johannesburg Atelier

Publisher: Fourthwall Books, Johannesburg
Editor: Terry Kurgan
Designer: Carla Saunders
Publication date: 2017
ISBN: 978-0-9947009-4-0

If you are a bookseller, please contact Protea Distribution to order copies of Panya Routes and/or August House is Dead, Long Live August House!. If you are a reader, please ask your local bookshop to order the book for you via Protea Distribution.