#Throwback: The Amy Winehouse you wish you knew
Updated: Jul 16, 2021
#ArtThrowback Sweet. Kind. Lively. Far from the controversial self-destructive image we were fed by media, Amy was a talented girl who dreamt of becoming famous. Back in 2017, Jewish Museum London displayed an exhibition called "Amy Winehouse - A family portrait," partly curated by her brother, Alex. Visitors had the whole summer to get to know this side of her story, as told by her family and friends.
A personal account
I must admit, I loved Amy Winehouse ever since “Rehab” was launched. I was a 22-year old Erasmus student in sunny Portugal and I all could do all day was reviewing Psychoanalysis books on behalf of my over-loaded Portuguese roommate who fantasized about becoming a jazz singer and woke me up every single day with Diana Krall’s “The Look of Love” album.
My biggest worries were to keep up with trying ALL types of Porto Wine, returning the books to the local Cine club on time, and going to the beach. School was far from my top 10 must-do. I was away from home and somewhat, Amy’s voice was so soothing that turned homesickness into a jazzy breeze. That bad girl vibe going on was exactly what I wished I knew how to master at that age.
Her voice was like something I’ve never heard before, or better said: not similar to anything post-1950s or 1960s. It made me long for times I haven’t lived myself but wished I had. Not to mention her pinup style, her extreme cat eye makeup, her iconic pink ballet pumps, and the beehive - I remember her saying that the less self-confident she felt, the higher her beehive. Well, at least she was honest.
Voice, style, personality. What’s not to like? And she was just 24 (2 years older than me)! Still, the media managed to pull out the worst stories and she unfairly remained, for many people, just another addition to the drug-fuelled 27 club. In 2011 when she passed away, I visited her home in Camden Square and it was then when I first started to be interested in her as a human being and not in the public persona, as much as the latter fascinated me as well.
A family portrait, beyond the pop star
If you think about it, we all have good days and bad days, and none of us looks stunning when going to buy a pack of cigars in the early morning. There were messages left by fans all over the world, glasses of wine, and flowers. People really seemed to love her and her music. Beyond the pop star, there was a lovely lively personality. The “Amy Winehouse – a Family Portrait” Exhibition at the Jewish Museum London focused exactly on this side of her.
“I want people to hear my voice and just…forget their troubles for five minutes”
A girl who had “this dream of being famous” as she said it herself when she was 13 and applied for a scholarship at the Sylvia Young Theatre School in London. “I want people to hear my voice and just…forget their troubles for five minutes,” she confessed. And boy, she did!
The exhibition reconstructs this behind-the-scenes-esque Amy. The loyal friend who would cook soup for you, the troublemaker at school, the voracious reader, the Sudoku enthusiast, the Jewish girl proud of her heritage who received Claudia Roden’s “The Book of Jewish Food” as a birthday present from her brother.
As stated from the entrance, the exhibition was far from being a shrine. Her brother Alex– who came up with the idea - and the curators intended to create a life-size family portrait, with floor-to-ceiling oversized picture frames. Among the vintage bar, fridge magnets, a book collection that features titles by Nabokov and Bukowski, as one soaks into the space painted in Amy’s favourite colour tones: light blue, pink, and beige, you get that awkward feeling of “I think I’m starting to know her”. Because, yes, above all, she was an energetic young spirit with an enormous talent, so strikingly opposing her petite, fragile appearance.
Back in London
Although initially intended to be just a small display of Amy’s personal belongings, back in 2013, the exhibition developed a life of itself, embarking on an international tour due to its incredible popularity and demand from fans worldwide. In 2017 it returned to London, with a few extras, such as the sketches made by tattoo artist Henry Hate for her “Cynthia” tattoo – Cynthia was her beloved grandmother with whom she had a close bond. Amy always looked up to her and based her distinctive pin-up style on photographs of a younger, glamorous, head-turning Cynthia.
What was striking, compared to other art exhibitions, was the intimacy factor added by the location. First, it was in Camden, about which Amy once said “I feel I can do anything I want in Camden. It's like my playground.” Secondly - the Jewish Museum. Amy was proud of her Jewish roots/ Moreover, one of the ways her brother described her was as “a little Jewish kid from North London.” Therefore, where else could you get to know Amy better than a few blocks away from her house?
The exhibition was on from 16 March 2017 - 24 September 2017 at The Jewish Museum London and if you would've visited on a sunny day, you could've paired it with an Amy-themed street art trail across Amy’s Camden, or with various talks, workshops, live performances and late nights celebrating Amy’s legacy.
We love you and miss you EVERY SINGLE DAY, Amy!
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