Almost every black South African who grew up in the township has many fond memories of paraphernalia that made their face-brick house a home. If you think back to your childhood ekasi, there are undoubtedly images of the room-divider filled with plates and glasses reserved for special occasions, or the porcelain statuettes of dogs and kittens that adorned the top of the fire place or TV stand. The ultimate childhood memory, however, has to be the iconic mother-child portrait that hung on the wall of almost every black household in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

The image resonates with a lot of black South Africans, most of whom genuinely thought it was a portrait of them, or their siblings, with their mother. As we grow older and think about this image, it becomes clear that it’s not us but an unknown mother and her child. It’s an interesting paradox, really; the familiarity of the unknown. 

The image resonates with a lot of black South Africans 

Looking at the image brings on an ineffable nostalgia that threatens to bring tears to your eyes. Tears of joy. Tears of remembrance. The warm embrace between mother and child permeated your home, bringing a sense of security and comfort. The memories flood and you are transported to your mother or grandmother’s sitting room, a little boy or girl surrounded by loved ones enjoying a wholesome meal on a sunny Sunday afternoon, after a three-hour church service. The beauty of the bygone days resurfaces as you gaze at this timeless piece of household art. A visit to your childhood home beckons.

This mother-child portrait not only takes you back to the simplicity of your childhood, it also connects you to other black South Africans who grew up in the hood. These memories connect us in fascinating ways. Show it to a group of black folks, and they’ll all have a story to share about the portrait and other accouterments that are unique to the black experience in a South African township – the painting of the crying child or the metal sculptures that your mother used to polish with iBraso every Saturday morning. 

The memories flood and you are transported to your mother or grandmother’s sitting room.

The image is more than a mere portrait; it is a representation of the quintessential black home – a household held together by a doting mother. But who is this mother? Where does this picture come from? The identity of the woman and the child is unknown. Who are they and where are they today?

Spree and Butan Wear embark on a journey to uncover the mystery around this iconic photograph. The brand interviewed South African celebrities and everyday people, asking them about their connection with the mother and child photograph. What resulted was a mini-documentary featuring the likes of HHP, JR, and Lerato Sengadi. Each of them shared their memories of the photograph and the significance thereof. 

As noted by HHP, this mother-child portrait is part of the fibre of our nation’s story. “It just takes me back to the very things that make us South African”.

Urban lifestyle clothing brand Butan Wear have created a t-shirt with the image as a focal point. A great way to pay homage to an important part of South African heritage.