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Belarus is the only CIS country where the last Amy Winehouse exhibition will be shown

From 15 June 2019, the Museum of History in Minsk has been hosting a legendary exhibition ‘Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait’ devoted to the life and music of the famous British singer. Late artist’s brother Alex with his family...

From 15 June 2019, the Museum of History in Minsk has been hosting a legendary exhibition ‘Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait’ devoted to the life and music of the famous British singer. Late artist’s brother Alex with his family visited its grand opening. It was the first visit for the Winehouse family of their historical homeland since their ancestors left Belarus in XIX century.

The ongoing exhibition is the first and last public display of Amy’s personal belongings, from family photographs to fashion, in the former Soviet Union. After the exhibition ends on August 31st the artefacts will be returned to Amy’s family and other owners. The organisers also plan special events programme, including a tribute concert during the Great British Festival in Minsk, lectures on a Belarusian cultural heritage that will follow a bit later this summer.

According to the founder of the Belarusian-Jewish Cultural Heritage Center Maya Katznelson:

It’s important for us that Minsk can become the last city that will accommodate this unique exhibition. Thanks to the project, Amy’s family visited their historical motherland for the first time in their life. The public display will provide a more objective and full understanding of our cultural heritage. It will serve as a creative impulse for the current generation of people interested in Amy’s music and life, and also strengthen the image of Belarus as a very significant participant in a world’s cultural scene.

The centre’s mission is to encourage raising awareness about rich Belarusian and Jewish cultural heritage, reviving and popularising the names and accomplishments of an array of famous and prominent figures of Belarusian Jewish origin and developing modern forms of displaying this heritage. This project also aims to help in establishing a cultural dialogue and communication with people who originate from Belarus, various organisations and specialists, as well as international cooperation in the sphere of history, culture and arts.

Long way home

Photo: Alexei Moisevich

The choice of the capital of Belarus for the exhibition is not accidental. In 1891 the great-great-grandfather of Amy Harris Winehouse emigrated from Minsk to London and never returned home. The journey of the public display is somewhat symbolic, as it ends where the family history had started. The family comes back home after years of absence. The Winehouse family members are very fond of their Jewish background, hence the separate exposition wall devoted to a genealogical tree where this part of history is reflected.

‘Harris Winehouse had come to England from Minsk (Belarus) in 1891, and soon his family followed him. He travelled to London by mistake, as his original destination was New York, but even thinking that we could originate from somewhere else would be a bit ridiculous. One hundred twenty years later we are still here, and still proud of our roots’,  says the note written for the exhibition by Alex Winehouse.

The first public display was presented at the Jewish Museum in London in 2013 and managed to increase its attendance by 300 per cent, so it was taken further to San-Francisco, Vienna, Tel-Aviv, Amsterdam, Melbourne and other cities of the world.

The exhibition in Minsk has become possible thanks to joint efforts of the Goethe Institute, Belarusian Jews Cultural Heritage Centre and the British Embassy in Belarus initiated a Family Portrait exhibition. Some part of the funding was organised and raised from the crowdfunding platform Ulej. Later not just Amy’s fans, but also representatives of the Belarusian IT-community joined the cause. They are actively involved and support other industries in the country, like healthcare, education and culture.

The exhibition has become possible due to joint efforts invested by a software and gaming company Gismart that is also involved in music industry production, and a software company  Itransition, one of top-100 world outsourcing companies.

‘We are pleased to be a part of this large scale significant project. Gismart is already inspiring millions of people worldwide and helps to discover musical potential using mobile technology solutions. This exhibition is an opportunity for each Belarusian to receive a portion of this inspiration and touch creativity of such a legendary artist as Amy’, administrative director of Gismart Minsk office Yevgeny Nagel comments.

Photo: Alexei Moisevich

The exhibition organisers have already started looking for additional information about the Winehouse’s family ancestors in the national archives of Belarus. According to Fiona Gibbs, the British ambassador in Belarus:

joint efforts with the partners in organising this exhibit in Minsk will give the Belarusian people a chance to learn about Jewish and British identity of Amy Winehouse and find out more about her family. It’s a significant project both for Britain and its intercultural connections with Belarus. Amy Winehouse persona and the fact that her music unites millions of people in the world helps us establish a dialogue with representatives of different nations. That’s why the opening of the exhibit was honoured by a large London delegation, including Amy’s brother Alex and his family, as well as Abigail Morris – director of The Jewish Museum in London.

‘Technology, just like art is an area which unites people worldwide. When we found out that Minsk can host such a great exhibition, we realised that we could help this project become a reality. The exposition is based on original and very intimate items that belonged to this talented artist. This makes it particularly authentic and genuine’,  says Aleksey Demichev, CEO of Itransition.

The fact that this public display has become possible is partially influenced by the recent changes in Belarus visa regime which now allows 30 days visa-free stay for most European visitors in Belarus has had a positive impact on cultural life and global outlook of Belarus as tourist cultural hub. Events like Amy Winehouse exhibition prove that borders are starting to shift. Belarus is slowly evolving on an international scene and becoming a convenient.space for organising cultural and IT events. Hopefully. the trend will continue and Belarus will see more interest from the international community.

Tatsiana Allsopp

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