Take a tour through Amy Winehouse's life

Primary tabs

A new exhibition in Melbourne explores the singer's roots and family life.

There's a photo of Amy Winehouse, in the new exhibition at the Jewish Museum of Australia in Melbourne, that feels like a visual representation of everything we came to love about the late singer.

It's a portrait of her 1994 Ossidge school class, and she is right in the middle of the frame. All the other kids sit straight-backed, but Winehouse is perched forward, staring down the camera, like she's trying to provoke a response.

In that look you can see the early emergence of the brash, individualist streak fans would later cherish. She is saying: 'This is who I am. You got a problem with that?'

I want people to hear my voice and just ... forget their troubles for five minutes.

Amy Winehouse in her school admission essay

The image sets the tone for Amy Winehouse: A Family Portait, a collection of personal items curated by her brother, Alex, that opened this past weekend.

Alex Winehouse wanted the exhibition, originated put together in collaboration with the Jewish Museum of London, to be “a snapshot of a girl who was, to her deepest core, simply a little Jewish girl from North London with a big talent who, more than anything, just wanted to be true to her heritage”.

While we get a glimpse of the family history that shaped her, what resonates is Winehouse's eagerness to be her own person.

"I want people to hear my voice and just ... forget their troubles for five minutes,” she wrote in her admissions essay to the Sylvia Young Theatre School.

She wanted to be remembered, she said, for being a famous singer, but also “for being just ... me".

What we know now, six years after her death at 27, is that she absolutely accomplished that.

She found incredible fame – for better or worse – and borrowed from disparate eras to create something distinctive. As the promoter Michael Gudinski, who worked with Winehouse, told Jess McGuire on Double J, the singer was a leader, not a follower. 

Amy winehouse 2 for Drupal.jpg
Amy Winehouse in an early photo

You can see that in some of the possessions – CD and book collections, in particular – taken from her home after she died.

It was a blending of the high brow and the low, the commercial and the critical – Beck's Odelay sitting alongside a 1997 So Fresh compilation; a Bukowski collection butting up against a Time Life compendium called Serial Killers.

It's the same approach that allowed her work to bridge the pop and independent worlds and endure beyond her death.

She wrote killer pop songs but never shook off her rebel look. She could win Grammys and appear tattoo-clad on the covers of Rolling Stone and Mojo. ("I just dress like it's still the 1950s," she once said.)

As you reach the end of the exhibition, which runs until March, you loop back around to a room with a video of Winehouse performing, doing what she did best.

It seems fitting: in that performance, you see the final embodiment of that bold individuality – the one that shone through in that early class photo.

And then the screen fades to black.

 

 

Open