lra Sherman's art...is it sculpture? Is it jewelry? Or is it some new category that still defies
classification? lra Sherman creates metal works that can be wearable, that make social commentary,
and then take off on their own to a world that we feel should exist somewhere.
His current exhibition of Impenetrable Devices, recently on exhibit at the National Ornamental
Metals Museum in Memphis, is a strong showing of the Sherman aesthetic.
This exhibition consists of 16 imaginative stainless steel prostheses that are designed to be worn on
the body. They have been designed to protect/defend women and men's most vulnerable body
Sherman has applied his mechanized aesthetic, consisting of stainless steel plates, brass, electrical
wiring, padlocks, razors, electrodes, hypodermic needles, and other small mechanical parts to
address the emotions of anger and pain resulting from sexual assault. Although meant to convey
empathy for rape victims, these works are also scary as hell. I l .
The exhibit stirred up Tennessee criticism when the works were referred to as ''genital armor and
castration mechanisms'' by the local media.
Conservative art views aside, the mechanical beauty of these pieces is breathtaking. They are
powerful forms whose kinetic action is as clean and efficient as their polished metal surfaces.
Visually, they are unquestionably sculpture of a sophisticated visual nature. However, although
clothing would not fit over them well, they do function.
In this sense they are large protective pieces of jewelry to be worn over clothing. There is an intense
hostility inherent in each work that produces a chilling effect.
Sherman's inspiration for the anti-rape devices comes from interviews he had with five victims of
sexual assault who were trying to regain a sense of physical safety. What they wanted, Sherman
said, was body armor.
''When you talk with someone who's been raped, you start getting details that are just horrifying.
That horror I transform into my work Sherman said. ''But if I were to make pieces horribly ugly and
brutal, there's no redemption. The beauty of the work has a kind of redemptive quality.''
His work has names like Bear Trap Corset, Saber Tooth Speculum and Intimate Electric Fence.
A sleek and immaculate piece, The Injector, aptly fitted with hypodermic needles, is designed to
deliver tattoo dye to mark an assailant along with a sedative to slow him down.
Intimate Electric Fence is lined with electrodes. It can deliver a serious shock. Sherman verified this
result when he accidentally shorted it out in the studio.
''1 almost broke my finger when my arm snapped back, he said.
The Cremasteric Reflex Corset, possibly his most complex security device seems to meet this need.
At 84 inches in height, this mechanism needs support from crossing metal bands around a wearer's
The other devices fit around the wearer's waist or hips.
Cremasteric Reflex Corset is equipped with steel spikes driven by pneumatic cylinders that perform
basic cutlery functions when activated by a strategically located pressure sensitive air valve. The
aesthetic beauty of this piece is quite dark. Watching a demonstration of the Reflex Corset can
result in a week's worth of nightmares.
None of the devices are displayed on mannequins in this show. Most are clinically attached to the
wall; Although there are a few small photographs showing models wearing them, using mannequins
for the whole exhibit could have expanded the dimension of the show.
The wall installation favors the pure sculptural form. Mannequins could have emphasized the social
commentary that was important to the creation of these works.
Overall, lra Sherman is an artist not to be overlooked. No doubt there will be more astonishing work
to come from this groundbreaking artist.
Dr. Nancy Moyers
Voices of Art Magazine
Voices of Art Magazine