Written by Shankar Puri
Shankar Puri was recently in Cape Town to interview artist Leonie Edna Brown, who talked to him about art, religion, love, and the everlasting trauma of a difficult childhood.

Here’s the first part of the story

Shankar Puri was recently in Cape Town to interview artist Leonie Edna Brown, who talked to him about art, religion, love and the everlasting trauma of a difficult childhood.

Leonie Edna Brown’s studio is not far from the idyllic Durbanville Hills and the drive gives me a moment to ponder on something she wrote on her website. “Art creates a moment in time for silence and contemplation. It stops me in my tracts (sic) and for that one little moment, nothing else matters but that small breath of peace”. The word ‘peace’, echoes in my thoughts as I traverse the road that dissects Cape Town’s Northern Suburbs. The gorgeous green wine farms that marry the natural contours of the landscape in splendour deserve artistic appreciation, and there is certainly a moment in time here, minutes away from my destination, that evokes a sort of inner peace.

There are more of these insights on her personal blog, about the curative nature of art and the symbiotic relationship it has with healing. Art can help “seek out the light and push away the darkness”, Leonie writes, saying that she wants to “create something that can bring light and change.” As I turn my gaze between the road ahead and the intrepid mountain bikers slicing through the wine farms on the dirt tracks, I wonder about the darkness that exists within this abstract South African painter and where did it all come from?

“I always say that I grew up as an orphan in a family of orphans,” Leonie starts, as we take our seats in her studio, an oblong-shaped hall that forms part of the 1st Durbanville Scout Hall. Every inch of it is splattered with paint, some accidental spills from the strokes of a paintbrush, others purely intentional by the artist herself, on canvas and in an array of colour and emotion. Her two beautiful Swiss Shepherds find comfort by her feet and I sip the coffee she’s made me from a metal, paint-stained cup.

“My dad, he didn’t really have parents really, he discovered his mother dead on the ground when he was 10 and was sent off to his grandmother, so he grew up without a father. And my mother grew up in a really poor family in Parow. Big families those days were very, very poor. She was seven years old standing on a chair cooking rice on a hot stove, for example.

It begins as a story of asperity from poverty, for children from two separate families that would eventually become Leonie’s parents. Childlike innocence swept away by a harsh Dickens-esque narrative. “When they got married and I came along four years later, my dad was already an alcoholic. And my mum grew up with a lot of fear as she came from an abusive background, so she was overtly aggressive towards me as well. So I grew up with no protection, actually no parenting. I was looked after, fed, probably loved but they didn’t know how to express it.” I follow her lead in sipping coffee, feeling the neglect in my heart as she speaks.

“If the parents are not there to protect the children, then the children are open to all kinds of abuse. So from a very young age, I was sexually abused by family members. My dad was working for a Government Institution at the time, so from people within the Institution as well.” I feel my heart sink but I feel strangely at ease with everything because I already got the impression, when we shook hands and greeted that I was in the presence of a very strong woman.