Exhibit highlights life of Black Canadian music producer, from piano at age 4 to first award

Todmorden Mills is holding an exhibit that features the life of a widely recognized Canadian music producer

A photograph of music producer Matthew Burnett with Jessie Reyez hangs on a wall
This photo of producer Matthew Burnett with musician Jessie Reyez is part of the Why? exhibit at Todmorden Mills. (Stephanie Jendres/Toronto Observer) 

In the atmosphere of the Don Valley’s Todmorden Mills Heritage Site, an art exhibit called Why? highlights the life of an award-winning Black Canadian music producer.

Matthew Burnett has worked with artists such as Billie Ellish, Jessie Reyez, and Daniel Cesar.

Why? is a look back at Burnett’s career through photos, and asks the question of why he was the one to have an amazing career in music. What were the contributing factors, and how did it come to be for him?

Photos of producer Matthew Burnett through the years. (Stephane Jendres/Toronto Observer)

The exhibit launched Feb. 10 as part of the city’s Black History Month programming, and remains on display at Todmorden Mills until March 24. A museum representative stressed the importance of exhibits like Burnett’s.

“We are creating spaces for voices that may not have had the opportunity to tell their story, and it’s very important they do tell their story so that museums represent all people,” said Lisa Randall, Museum Administrator at Todmorden Mills and the Market Gallery at St. Lawrence Market.

In the exhibit, Burnett explains the photos highlight his own personal journey.

“My belief is that an artist’s why can be traced back to an initial spark, a singular artistic moment, if we’re willing to unpack the story,” Burnett states. The Toronto Observer reached out with an interview request, but Burnett had not responded by the time of publish.

The main image upon entering the exhibit. (Stephanie Jendres/Toronto Observer)

A life through photos

The thirty-two year old Burnett was born in Toronto, and discovered music at an early age. He was playing piano when he was four years old, and would go on to make music for the biggest singers by twenty-one.

The exhibit features a row of photos in a chronological order, dating all the way back to when Burnett was very young, ending with a photo of a Grammy award. Various photos show different stages of his life, from discovering his first instrument as a child, being a part of his artists’ tours, to winning an award for his craft.

There is a twenty-two minute video on display, where Burnett explains his musical inspirations, as well as the artists he worked with.

In one particular photo, Burnett can be seen coaching one artist. “There’s people behind them, that help them become the greatness they become,” Randall said. “Somebody who believes in them, somebody who’s got a lot of knowledge.”

Randall said people taking up that musical, artistic space, such as Burnett, are inspiring for the younger generation.

On Feb. 10, Burnett gave a sold-out performance at the Papermill Theatre inside Todmorden Mills, which included multiple visual elements, a band, and a video to complement his work.

Todmorden Mills was specifically chosen to accommodate the sold out show, as well as for its cultural history.

Featured photos on display.
A row of featured photos on display. (Stephanie Jendres/Toronto Observer)

The Power Of Dreams

Burnett’s exhibit is not the only event happening in Toronto beyond Black History Month. In Union Station, there is a free art exhibit for everyone to view.

Titled Black Dreams and Aspirations, the visual exhibit features 12 artists, including artist Yasin Osman. The exhibit includes themes of self-possession, past connections, creativity, as well as imagination.

The exhibit is co-curated with MakeRoom INC., and TD Bank. Many of these works can be found in the West Wing of Union Station.

The free exhibit will be open to the public until the end of summer. The first half features Osman’s photos of Somali children.

In an interview with NowToronto, Executive Director of Programming Syma Shah said is the exhibition highlights Black voices.

“The hopes we have in the past can shape our futures. The ability to create something new or better depends on our ability to imagine it,” MakeRoom stated.

Click on the gallery below to see more photos from Matthew Burnett’s Why? exhibit, which runs until March 24 at Todmorden Mills Heritage Site at 67 Pottery Road.

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Posted: Mar 16 2024 6:15 pm
Filed under: News