A CITY primary school was today at the centre of a row over a large golliwog which features in a historic mural in its assembly hall.
A mother complained the image at Wardie Primary was “racist and offensive” after spotting it when she was visiting the school while thinking of applying for a place there for her son.
Mary Rocha – who has complained to the police, city council and MSPs – said she was astonished to find that the mural with the golliwog, painted in 1936 and featuring scenes from Alice in Wonderland across nine panels, had been restored in 2011 with a £17,600 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
She called for the image to be removed or covered up. She said: “It’s an inappropriate image for a primary school gymnasium and assembly hall. It’s one thing if it was a museum piece or an exhibition, where you might explain what a swastika was or Ku Klux Klan outfit. It goes back to the American black sambo, the blacked-up face. It’s offensive to me: I find it racially offensive.”
The golliwog is sitting on an alcove ledge above the Alice in Wonderland figure in the mural’s central panel.
The mural and Wardie school’s distinctive architecture are well known in academic circles. They are part of the international Decorated School project, which is studying art and school buildings with funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
Experts said they were unclear as to why the image was ever included in the first place: it does not feature in Lewis Carroll’s story. They have speculated that it may have been added to promote Robertsons’ jam, which used to have a golliwog on its logo.
The HLF admitted it was unlikely its staff had inspected the mural since the grant was a small sum awarded under its fast-track funding scheme. An HLF spokeswoman said it would now contact the school to discuss the controversy.
The city council ruled out covering up the image but said it would now use additional teaching packs from Show Racism the Red Card at the school.
A spokeswoman insisted the council and school took diversity and anti-racism extremely seriously. She said Wardie had a Unicef Rights Respecting Schools award. She added: “The mural is of both historical and artistic importance. While we understand the offensiveness of the image, it is in no way indicative of the attitudes of either the school or the council. Our equalities policies and approaches are robustly multicultural and anti-racist, promoting diversity and good relationships among pupils.”
Jeremy Howard, of the Decorated School project, said the image could be used as a tool for teaching about racism. He said: “This is history: if you start painting it out or get rid of it you’re deceiving people about what views were prevalent in the 1930s.”