I never thought I would ever wonder what famed songstress Amy Winehouse’s chicken soup would taste like. “It was awful” claimed her brother Alex, co-curator of Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait the new exhibition at the Jewish Museum in Camden, “but,” he concedes, “her meatballs were always excellent.”
It’s the little details like this that A Family Portrait teases out of the Amy Winehouse story, one which we all think we know so well. How could we not? The press documented it so extensively, but they only focussed on her troubles, turning that the distinctively bee-hived chanteuse in to a tragic caricature. A Family Portrait allows us a glimpse at the girl underneath – its central message is that Amy was a normal girl from a normal family.
The message seems to have come through loud and clear, speaking to a friend after we explored the exhibition, she said she liked it but “it could have been about almost anyone, you know?”
The objects on display – from family photographs to school uniforms- could indeed have been relics from anyone’s childhood, but they weren’t. Even from the school pictures you could tell there was something different about this particular girl from north London, a charisma that was apparent even though the lens of the photographer who took her school pictures.
Amy was a Londoner. That fact is undeniable. That fact is also, unsurprising. Although she’s most well known for her love of Camden in particular, she often spent time in the East End visiting family. London was in Amy’s blood – both her Dad and her Brother had taken The Knowledge. With a map in the middle of the exhibition showing significant locations, I couldn’t help but think that this exhibition wouldn’t look out of place in the Museum of London or even the V&A given Amy’s obvious impact on style and the museum’s penchant for exhibitions about musicians.
At the same time though, I couldn’t imagine this story being told anywhere else, this wasn’t just Amy’s story but one that belonged to the Winehouse clan as a whole. “Being Jewish, to me,” said Amy in 2005, “is about being together as a real family.” Her family was her Jewish identity.
Back to Black
“I want to be remembered,” wrote Winehouse in her application essay to the Sylvia Young School in 1997, “for being an actress, a singer, for sell-out concerts and sell-out West End and Broadway shows. For being just…me.” She wanted to be remembered for her talent as well as being herself. And now she is, and for her chicken soup too boot.
Amy adopted Camden as her spiritual home; its kooky and creative vibe appealed to her. In return, Camden embraced Amy. As we were walking back to the underground station, we spied this intriguing piece of street art on a nearby pub.
If you enjoyed this post, check out the Jewish Museum’s entry in the Museum of Museum Badges.