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FRIDAY, 25 APR 2014
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Amy Winehouse exhibition shows girl behind the star
Agence France Presse
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LONDON: It is Amy Winehouse, but not as we know her. The mass of dark hair, steady gaze and full lips are instantly recognisable, but there is no hint of the scrawny, tattooed addict she would later become.

Intimate family photographs, displayed for the first time in a new exhibition opening in London on Wednesday, offer a heartbreaking glimpse of the fresh-faced Jewish girl who grew up to become one of Britain most famous soul singers.

Two years after she died aged just 27, Winehouse's older brother Alex has put together a collection of pictures, clothes and memorabilia to remember his sister as she was before drink and drugs brought her low.

He has written a heartfelt caption alongside each item, remembering the Snoopy books they loved as children, the first guitar that he and Winehouse shared -- "possibly the worst musical instrument ever made" -- and the jazz albums she borrowed from him.

The result is a painfully touching portrait of a woman who won six Grammys -- five for the 2006 album "Back to Black" and one awarded posthumously for a duet with Tony Bennett -- but could not defeat her inner demons.

After years of drug and alcohol addiction, Winehouse was found dead at her London flat on July 23, 2011 after suffering accidental alcohol poisoning.

There is no mention of this in the exhibition, which deliberately focuses on the good times.

"This is not a shrine or a memorial to someone who has died," Alex Winehouse wrote in an introduction.

"This is a snapshot of a girl who was at her deepest core simply a little Jewish kid from north London with a big talent."

The exhibition is being held at the Jewish Museum in Camden, a venue that reflects Winehouse's cultural identity and is also near to where she lived and died.

"Amy and probably her close family are not particularly religious but they do have a very strong Jewish cultural background," curator Elizabeth Selby told AFP.

They held the traditional Friday night supper, Alex Winehouse had a bar mitzvah -- a coming-of-age ritual for young Jewish men -- and the family celebrated the festival of Passover.

"Being Jewish to me is about being together as a real family," Winehouse once said, and the exhibition features numerous pictures of family gatherings and meals.

The singer kept many of the photographs in a suitcase, which is also on display. She looked through them with her father Mick, a taxi driver, just days before she died.

An end-of-term school photo shows her as a bored and defiant ten-year-old, a trait that would later get her expelled from the Sylvia Young Theatre School.

She had joined the school full of enthusiasm and her application form, filled out in childish handwriting, reveals her burning ambition to sing even at the age of 14.

"I have this dream to be famous. To work on stage. It's a life-long ambition," she wrote.

"I want people to hear my voice and just forget their troubles for a few minutes."

"Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait" runs until September 15.

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