Paintings by Pehah Jacques Soro at Chastain Arts Center Gallery. Photos by Isadora Pennington.

The Chastain Arts Center Gallery’s first exhibition of the year is Women in The Moment of Life, an exhibition of African artists Pehah Jacques Soro from Côte d’Ivoire and Casimir Bationo from Burkina Faso. On a recent sunny afternoon I met with Kevin Sipp, exhibition specialist and the Art Administrator for the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, curator Jean-Patrick Guichard, owner of Gallery Miriam in Fairburn, and artist Casimir Bationo in an oil painting classroom adjacent to the gallery at the Chastain Arts Center. We discussed their four year journey to bring this exhibition to life. The result is Women in The Moment of Life featuring paintings that pay homage to women and their roles, influence, and power.

L-R, Artist Casimir Bationo, curator Jean Patrick Guichard, Art Administrator Kevin Sipp, and Facility Administrator Alma Kadri.

As part of his role with the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, Sipp is responsible for curating exhibitions in city-owned galleries including Gallery 72 in downtown Atlanta, the Mayor’s Gallery at City Hall, and the Chastain Arts Center Gallery in Buckhead. Sipp recalled meeting Guichard when he worked at the Hammonds House years ago. Guichard invited him back to his home-based Gallery Miriam for an exclusive evening of international art and food. At this gathering Sipp came to understand that Guichard’s connections, collections, and ability to coordinate with artists from around the world set him apart. He knew he wanted Guichard to curate a show. 

“I have just as much fun turning over the gallery to an outside curator as I do curating my own shows,” explained Sipp. He respected Guichard’s ability to curate, and waited patiently through the pandemic to see this show come to fruition in early 2023. ”I was just waiting for the opportunity to give him a platform to showcase his talents.” 

There are a wide array of cultures and communities that call Atlanta home, including those from Asia, South America, and Africa. “I truly believe that Atlanta is an international city that doesn’t always portray itself in that way,” said Sipp. For this exhibition the focus is on Francophone artists from Africa whose work can be relatively unknown outside of the European art world due at least in part to a language barrier. “I made it my mission to introduce them to the United States,” said Guichard. A liaison in many ways, he graciously offered his translation services as I spoke with artist Casimir Bationo who was in town for a visit.

Artist Casimir Bationo pictured in front of his paintings at the Chastain Arts Center Gallery in Buckhead.

Bationo has been an artist since he was six years old. He began drawing as a child and eventually took to painting as a teenager. He studied contemporary painting for three years and has been making art and exhibiting it around the world ever since. His experiences living in Mozambique and Morocco, plus traveling to Europe, South America, and now the United States have offered him a worldly outlook and influenced his work. 

In the gallery are a selection of paintings by Bationo that depict faces peering out from the dark. Dream-like and moody, the scenes depict figures that seem to emerge from the background and often merge with one another. Swaths of vibrant colors such as blues, oranges, and reds are juxtaposed by sharp lines in black and white. His works focus on displacement and are often based on people he meets during his travels. His paintings sometimes feature incomplete faces with expressions that convey a wide array of emotions from joy and comfort to hardship and sorrow. 

“Art unifies people, it allows people to know who you are, who your people are, your culture. All of that can be conveyed through knowing your art,” said Bationo. 

The artists hope to uplift and honor the women in their lives– particularly their mothers– through their artwork. “They wanted to show the life of women and honor the woman, not only for women’s month coming up but also to honor women as the center of culture and economics and education,” said Guichard, who noted that many countries in West Africa are still matrilineal.

“The women are the ones who are in charge of all the childbearing, raising the kids, bringing money into the household, going to markets, educating the kids, and teaching them who they are supposed to be and how they are supposed to behave. Basically they are the center of the house and the family. In some cultures still the kids will take the mother’s name and not the father’s name. The artists wanted to show women in all different kinds of light; like you will see them socializing, doing laundry, braiding hair, just day to day activities.” 

Artist Pehah Jacques Soro was unable to attend our interview but his love and appreciation for African women is evident from even a brief glimpse at his artwork. Soro’s paintings, which sometimes include 3-dimensional elements protruding from the canvas such as braided hair, a basket of fruit, or musical instruments, depict women in various settings. They all seem to exude a sort of vibrant joie de vivre, with radiant skin complimented by shades of gold and framed by gradient halos. 

Soro was born in Korhogo, a city in the North of Cote D’Ivoire. As a child he attended school until a war and military coup forced him to stop attending traditional school. Instead, he enrolled at Centre Artistique de Korhogo where he got his first taste of painting. After completing his studies he graduated as valedictorian and went on to attend the Lycée d’Enseignement Artistique d’Abidjan to further his studies. He’s now working towards his Master’s Degree in art at l’Ecole Nationale des beaux-arts d’Abidjan. He uses his art to highlight African people specifically in the defense of women and children’s rights. 

For curator Guichard, a love for art has been a through line in his life since he was young. “I got my love of art from my mother,” he explained. “She was the public affairs officer for the United States in various countries in Africa. Her name was Miriam Guischard so I named the gallery after her. She inspired me to start collecting and I got my first piece in 1983.” The exhibition at the Chastain Art Center Gallery represents a significant step for Guichard to give exposure to international artists in Atlanta on a larger scale. 

L-R Kevin Sipp, Jean Patrick Guichard, and Casimir Bationo.

Not only does this exhibition provide opportunities for the artists to display their work in one of Atlanta’s most historic and beloved arts centers, Sipp also mentioned that it was a conscious decision to bring African art to Buckhead. He noted that many times the city can be territorial and art circles for various groups of artists often don’t overlap. Sipp wants to help unify Atlanta’s various artists with communities city-wide through his thoughtful curation and programming. 

This weekend on Sat., Mar. 11 at 1 p.m. there will be an artist talk which will offer an excellent opportunity to hear from these talented artists directly. Women in the Moments of Life will be on display in the Chastain Arts Center Gallery through Mar. 31, 2023.

Isadora Pennington

Isadora Pennington is a freelance writer and photographer based in Atlanta. She is the editor of Sketchbook by Rough Draft, a weekly Arts newsletter.