The exhibition of ‘Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait’ was first shown in the Jewish Museum in 2013. After taking a tour around the world, it has returned again in 2017, which finished at the end of September. This exhibition was a delightful and humble insight into Amy Winehouse off the stage and into her family life as a young Jewish girl and woman in London.
This family exhibition was curated by her elder brother Alex and sister-in-law Riva who encouraged the sentiment that Amy was just an ordinary Jewish girl living in an ordinary Jewish family. A humbling object to see was her school uniform: an item that she was made to wear, where as a young girl Amy would’ve been literally one of thousands who wore this uniform but little did she know that she would become an internationally famous and beloved star who would become England’s sweetheart, even six years after her death. It’s a reminder of ordinariness, youth, innocence and humility that she encompassed. Her uniform is one of the many items shown at the exhibition which give an indication of the person she was before the fame, behind the scenes, into her family life, her childhood, her religion, and which all encompassed birthed her love and talent for music.
Once stepping into her world, we are filled with smooth sound of jazz, or the sore heartache of rock music as we hear from her ultimate playlist. Surrounding the room, we hear the greats such as such as Frank Sinatra, Sam Kindon, Miles Davis, The Offspring. We even mourn as we hear her favourite song: Carol King – So Far Away, which we learn was played at her funeral. We are given an insight into a young girl’s musical world to which she took influence from the past.
Even her guitar, now seen as unique, famous for the woman who held it, was an old fashioned. Amy kept her shining vintage guitar throughout her career despite being able to afford a more flashy expensive one, and this shows that she had some semantics over the past, the vintage, the old.
We see that influence with the style she wore, her iconic beehive hair, retro dresses from the fifties interpreted into a grungier look. We learn that her famous pin-up tattoo, depicting her grandmother, a big influence in her life, from tattoo artist Henry Hate, that Amy told him that his original drawing was too pretty, which reveals that she wants things to not be beautified (seen her her somewhat sad music) and wanted to depict her grandmother’s likeness to tribute to her a tribute to her grandmother: especially her eternal youthfulness and “Va Va Voom” (Amy’s words). Amy was a lover of vintage and borrowed heavily from 50s and 60s, even collecting magnets with funny slogans with depictions of fifties housewives on them.
Even with Amy was being celebrated as an icon, she stayed extremely relatable. This was reflected in her clothes which are showcased in the exhibition. At first glance, you might think of these clothes as relatively ordinary, cheap, comfortable… nothing particularly special before you see that they’re from Miu Miu or Betsy Johnson. Even with the price being higher, Amy’s wardrobe shows a certain warmth and coziness in her skin which is why I think many a person still feel so much love for her even today. When people look at her, or even look at the items she wore, or the songs she listened to, they see a friend, someone who isn’t afraid to be sad, someone who is proud of their family and their city – proud of her religion and love seeps out in her music and her smile.
Some of the last items in the exhibitions I saw were a suitcase of old photographs of her, her family, old books, which they say Amy was looking at before the day she died. I believe she was feeling a much fuller feeling of what the viewers of this exhibition were, which was the fondness and warmth that’s felt when we look at what a wonderful life she lived.
Here are some more fun facts about Amy Winehouse and the exhibition, including her playlist!: