The Jewish Museum is the perfectly understated venue chosen by Alex Winehouse to display intimate possessions of his late sister Amy. This is no overblown, invasive peep-show depicting the caricature created by the press; this is a tribute to the person Alex spent his childhood with – a person who was not a modern day martyr but a normal girl with an extraordinary talent thrust into the limelight. This exhibition steers clear of the destructive end that befell Winehouse and instead stoically focuses on her heritage and what made her the person she was.
Walking in, it is uncertain whether one will be exiting with tear-filled eyes, yet this is a family affair and an attempt by a sibling to show that behind all the hype was a normal North London Jewish girl. Its motivation is to explain the amalgamation of positive influences that shaped Winehouse – not the tragic, doomed waif that the public judged, pitied and mourned.
The music filling the room is not Amy’s, it is a playlist she created of her favourite songs – songs by Ronnie Scott, Sarah Vaughan and 60s girl groups. It is these songs that shaped her musical and fashion style, her beehive, her tattoos, her strikingly individual voice and poetic lyricism.
Winehouse’s application to Sylvia Young lines the walls, her childlike scrawl poignantly revealing the now famous quote “I want people to hear my voice and just… forget their troubles for five minutes”. We gaze upon school uniforms and family photos – not just of the singer but of her Jewish ancestry and her much loved Grandma Cynthia.
Clothes (revealing just how tiny she was) are in display cases: her Glastonbury dress, her dress from the Tears Dry on Their Own video, and more. It is disquieting to be gazing at clothes worn by a woman who should only be turning 30 this year.
By the exit are decorative bird cages owned by Winehouse. One can’t help but feel that this is a metaphor for the life she was forced to lead. Recently Alex Winehouse, speaking publically for the first time, has been quoted as saying Amy “was pretty much shut in the house and couldn’t go anywhere” due to press. Sarah Vaughan’s lyrics (covered in October Song) now ring true: “lovebird, my beautiful bird/ spoke until one day she couldn’t be heard”.
Our rating: ***** (obviously)