Hidden Mothers, Hidden Max

2016, Chromogenic print
Artist collaboration with Andrew Savery-Whiteway
Credit: Max Dean / courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery

Hidden Mothers, Hidden Max


From 2015 to 2021 Dean incorporated a group of animal and human animatronic figures into his art works.  He came into possession of them while undertaking a commission to make an installation for the In/Future exhibition on the West Island site of Ontario Place.  Encountering the remains of figures representing loggers, miners and animal life from the decommissioned Wilderness Adventure Ride, he approached the site administrators about using them and in the process of doing so restoring them. It was agreed that Dean could take the figures in exchange for a set of photographs of the mannequins. In fulfilling this agreement Dean was inspired to make the series Hidden Mothers, Hidden Max.

In this series, Dean assumes the role of the hidden mother using his animatronic animal and human figures as accompanying props, often placed in poses suggesting a nurturing relationship. An exploration of the hidden mother was inspired by personal tragedy and an encounter with a curious 19th century photographic practice. In trying to better understand his mother’s inscrutability or stoicism in the wake of her suicide at a young age, the startling 19th century photographs of hidden mothers, one of which is pictured here, struck a chord with the artist. The practice of shrouding or obscuring – in reality and in the negative – mothers holding restive children was popular among studio owners tasked with making portraits of infants and young children. Dean’s Hidden Mothers, Hidden Max images operate on several levels of psychological engagement from the animistic to the personal quest to come to terms with loss.

Image Above

American or Canadian, Unknown

Portrait of baby in long white dress (seated on lap of shrouded figure), 1870s
Tintype with tint, 8.8 X 5.8 cm
Art Gallery of Ontario. Anonymous Gift, 2009
Copyright Art Gallery of Ontario 2009/121