Revenge Protection Redemption

August 19 – October 7, 2022
Bitfactory Gallery, Denver, Colorado

A black and white photo of two dancers in elaborate costumes.

Sculptor, master jeweler and metalsmith, Ira Sherman, has traveled a most unique and quixotic path. Spurred on by his innate curiosity of the human psyche, he has, for the past twenty years, sought out artistic solutions to some of society’s most perplexing problems. To this end, he’s manifested intricately engineered, sensationally unorthodox, and truly gorgeous pneumatic sculptures to tackle issues such as how to curb an excessive talker to headier evils like the objectification of women and rape. The kicker: every piece of art is wearable, fits the contours of the human body, and is functional.

Conceived in the early 1970s, Sherman’s first series of kinetic sculptures had a distinct tongue-in-cheek sensibility. In total, more than thirty works comprise the aptly titled series, "Panaceas to Persistent Problems: Devices for Social Survival." Back then, Sherman was primarily making a living as a jewelry designer. But often, as he worked, he’d imagine making grand versions of the smaller works he was creating, so grand that they could be worn as fitted exoskeletons. And, if he could do that, he thought, perhaps he could devise elaborate, aesthetically pleasing mechanisms to confront all that scared or annoyed him, like ticks. What if he could make a multi-functional version of a Swiss army knife to pluck ticks from one’s skin then annihilate the disease-laden pest with, say, a self-contained flame thrower? It’s important to note, before we go on, that Sherman grew up admiring “Q”, James Bond’s personal inventor of futuristic, superspy gadgetry.

"Panaceas" has been exhibited, in part and collectively, across the U.S., in the United Kingdom, Israel and Australia. Because these works were conceived in the mind of an artist, jeweler, and gonzo engineer, they possess an intrinsic beauty that belies an unfolding surprise: they actually work. From the moment Sherman’s delightfully amusing Steampunk-esque sculptures were displayed in public, the response has been immediate and genuine. Captivated by the gleaming metal, jewels, engineering, and gadgetry, audiences lost themselves in the possibilities and plausibility of actually solving vexing issues, if only they could don one of Sherman’s panaceas. To his surprise and delight, "Panaceas" sparked intense conversations; however, none more intense than the reaction to a bejeweled chastity belt titled, "Wrath of Persephone (Pneumatic Anti-Rape Device)." Made of sterling silver, brass, stainless steel, and pneumatic components, it is a diminutive 13 by 12 by 11 inches; its intention, however, filled every room in which it was displayed.

Interestingly, when Sherman researched the origin and design of chastity belts, he discovered that they didn’t actually exist beyond the pages of historic novels, and that the few examples we have were, according to the British Museum, either “curiosities for the prurient, or jokes for the tasteless.” Given this information, the idea of a chastity belt as a panacea fit right in, but not for its original medieval use. "Wrath of Persephone," instead, gave the wearer, not the overseer, control; the woman could determine with whom she wished to avail herself and, more importantly, she could handily thwart attackers with lethal poison-tipped darts.

"Wrath of Persephone" was the only chastity belt in the series, but it was so captivating that it earned Sherman the label, “the jeweler who makes chastity belts.” "Persephone" did something else profound: it launched an ideological shift in Sherman’s mind. What began as a lark, a fun diversion that used both sides of his brain—the artist and the engineer—led him on a journey to redemption.


The twelve sculptures in this exhibition, "Revenge, Protection, Redemption," are the result of the artist’s relentless pursuit of more and more creative ways to turn human responses to heightened emotional states into actual, functional solutions. Where earlier work for "Panaceas" evolved out of his imagination, the spark that ignited this new body of work came from outside influences. Conversations over "Persephone" were open and frank. Victims of sexual assault, while standing in front of it, began sharing their own experiences. Sherman was deeply moved. "Persephone" came on the scene years before the #MeToo movement and
public recognition of the extent of sexual assault and fear of speaking out. At that time, Sherman only knew one person who had had that experience, no others. Or so he thought. As he brought up the reaction to "Persephone" with friends, many of them told him that they too had been raped. Then they started sharing their desire for what they would have liked to see happen to their perpetrator. And so, in 1999, he set to work on a new series. "Impenetrable Devices" took his early concepts for mechanized sculpture to a new, more powerful level. These resulting works—all chastity belts—dealt with, primarily, revenge. It is important to note that Sherman did not create any of these pieces for profit. His art has been funded by, primarily, his work as a jeweler, which has allowed him to explore his art unfettered by market demands and to continue "Panaceas" and the pursuit of solutions to unsolvable problems.

A woman in a black dress gracefully poses against a gray background.
Above: WRATH OF PERSEPHONE, 1998 Below: THE INJECTOR, 2002 Photo credit: James Stolsenbach


Sherman is fond of saying, “the aesthetics are the mechanics, the mechanics are the aesthetics.” It is a standard by which he holds himself accountable, especially in light of the many profound conversations that have advanced the dialogue started by "Panaceas." This new work evolved over years of listening and considering ways a piece of body jewelry, a protective exoskeleton, could be mechanized to dish out just
rewards as prescribed by each victim. Overwhelmingly, the desire expressed was the need for revenge. Based on the "Wrath of Persephone" and fueled by these emotional responses, "Impenetrable Devices" took shape as armored, dystopic lingerie. Based on the desire to castrate the perpetrator, The Snare, a stainless steel, and amethyst studded chastity belt could capture and dismember the attacker’s “member.” The Injector dealt with the apprehension and permanent marking of the rapist by simultaneously injecting tattoo dye and sedative into the attacker. And "Cremasteric Reflex Corset," the 'Vegematic' of chastity belts: it chops, dices, and slices.

When one woman who asked why she had to wear a chastity belt, not the rapist, Sherman realized that body armor could also be a prison. "She Had a Good Time, He Did Not (Steampunk Style)" is thus a chastity belt, anti-rape device with the added bonus of giving a woman pleasure while incapacitating the man.

An interactive sculpture featuring a woman in a black dress.
A woman in a black suit is posing against a black background.
SHE HAD A GOOD TIME, HE DID NOT 2010 stainless steel, aluminum, bronze, electrical components 27 x 16 x 11 inches


Sherman’s wife supplied even more inspiration. A fashion designer, her work with fabrics, folding and layering them to create desired effects, captured his imagination. Could he take his own art up a notch and make couture out of forged metal? The task, he quickly discovered, pushed him beyond his knowledge base and sent him in search of new
blacksmithing skills.

Each sculpture starts with a concept and a question: how should this piece behave? From there, Sherman creates hundreds of sketches in order to think through nuances of design. He also uses commercial software to help flesh out ideas. Because of the near impossibility of making formsitting couture out of metal, he tries to see problems before they crop up. Despite this, along the way, he will discard three times the amount of metal needed for each final work of art. But the human body, he insists, is such a wonderful canvas that it’s impossible to make an ugly piece of art based on this form.

The pieces that make up this next iteration, "Hardcore Chasity Couture," were all created using hot metal and steel dies he made in the long tradition of blacksmithing. Each part of the belt made of hot metal was formed around mannequins and once assembled, fitted on a live model. The model would let Sherman know where she was being poked or scraped or restrained so that he could go back and rework those pieces

Since none of his work follows a set pattern, each object is a unique piece of jewelry requiring hundreds of hours to form, texture, refine, and polish. It is tedious work and demands a steady hand and meticulous eye. Completed, these pieces can weigh anywhere from 15 to 70 pounds.

"Hardcore Chastity Couture" debuted not in a gallery but on the runway and expanded the conversation from defense to fashion-forward empowerment. Truly, if sex appeal is the primary purpose of a fashion show, "Hardcore Chastity" achieved this result in spades. 'Little Black Skirt,' a mainstay in couture became, in the hands of the artist, an erotic fashion statement asserting that a woman could be both sexy and safe. Designed using the technique of fold-forming hot metal, this skirt is finished with finely rendered erotic details. The Victorian-era sculpture, 'Chastity Chain Corset,' is also made of hot forged steel, accessorized with chains and gemstones, and gives a nod to designers Alexander McQueen and Paul Gautier.

Headdresses, one for a man, the other for a woman, take personal protection to yet another level. Assault and rape are a physical act of violence but a person’s mental state—one’s head—also needs protecting. Trauma, research shows, lives on inside the bodies of victims and manifests in a multitude of destructive forms. These headdresses were designed to create a defense against the ability of an attacker to get into one’s head. Each headdress opens and closes only when the wearer grants permission.

An interactive sculpture featuring a woman in a bikini and a man in a tuxedo on a runway.
Below left: Scorpio F-1 and M-1 on runway
A woman in lingerie stands confidently on a runway, showcasing her alluring attire.
Below center: Little Black Skirt on runway
A woman in an interactive sculpture costume adorned with wires poses for a photo.
Below right: Headdress F-1


The final and, arguably, most powerful series in this exhibition is comprised of just three works that consider forgiveness as the path to closure. "E(motional) Detox," "Heartfelt," and "Hope" are also the most personal pieces he’s created to date. With these sculptures, Sherman offers us a final coda to the inquiry he started two decades ago, as well as a kind of blessing, and a solemn wish for peace and grace.

Their origin story began with a call from an old girlfriend he hadn’t talked in 40 years. She said she was calling for forgiveness. Back in college, during the free-wheeling 70s, she had been two-timing him. Sherman knew it and didn’t care; that was the time. So what? He knew, also, that she had been a victim of incest, that her father had raped her repeatedly from an early age, until she turned 16. She had confided this when they were a couple. For Sherman, this was a shocking revelation; she was the first person he’d ever met who’d been raped, much less by her father.

As they talked on the phone, reminiscing about old times, he reminded her of that conversation when she told him about her past. Suddenly, he thought to ask if he could interview her. He told her about the sculptures he’d been making, and she agreed to talk. When he got to his standard question, what would you like to see happen to the man who raped you, her response left him speechless. She said, “I’d like to forgive him.” Forgiveness, she explained, was how she was able to get through life.

Prior to this call, Sherman had suffered a great loss: his son had been hit by a car and killed. The reality of forgiveness, that it was not something easily given or received, sat heavy in his heart. But like a sign from the heavens, the call from an old flame shifted something inside him. In the days that followed, he reflected on her story and slowly began to grasp something profound: if this woman who had suffered so much could forgive, maybe he could too.

Forgiveness starts by opening the heart, but guilt and shame must be dealt with first. This requires an emotional detox. As Sherman contemplated his own life and sorrow, the job of the kidneys for cleaning out the body took hold of his imagination. He set to work designing a frame that exposed the kidneys to the world, to metaphorically show the release of raw emotion. Unlike the work that came before and covered or conceal the body, this sculpture brought light to that which is hidden. And there’s this. When kidneys are cut open, they look like butterflies. Sherman’s sculpture, "E(motional) Detox," centers on a pair of bronze kidneys that open to reveal the butterfly pattern, which symbolize the release of emotional burden.

The next step toward forgiveness is the ability to open one’s heart. "Heartfelt" focuses attention on a heart wrapped in steel, which is then wrapped around the body. This mechanical heart beats and shines of gold and ruby from within, which can only be seen when it opens. At the same time the heart opens, the chastity belt attached to this work of art also opens, allowing the wearer to accept love.

An interactive sculpture of a woman in a wire bodysuit.
The Hope, 2022

What then is the final stage of forgiveness? For Sherman, it’s a child. A child is hope, the future. Acknowledging this and his own loss struck hard but ultimately became cathartic. Hope is different than his other chastity belts in that the back is flirty and exposed but the front is armored and composed of three components. As each compartment opens like a flower, it exposes a baby growing inside, which is seen when the sculpture slowly rocks back, allowing the shell to open, revealing the child, the seed of hope. Filled with hope, Ira Sherman has come full-circle; this journey is done. We thank you for joining us to celebrate his work beginning with "Wrath of Persephone," the small seed that grew out of untilled soil and led to the release found in brutal revenge, on into fashion and the contradictory messages around femininity and sexuality, to finally arrive here, where we stand seeking light, love, and redemption.

-Rose Fredrick, independent curator, author, and publisher

Exhibition Plates

An interactive sculpture featuring a mechanical head with wires attached.
THE HOPE, (detail) detachable bronze uterus and protective armored belly
An interactive sculpture featuring a woman in a silver bikini on a black background.
THE INJECTOR, 2002 stainless steel,steel, brass, glass, garnet 30 x 10 x 11 inches
A woman poses with an interactive sculpture on her body.
CREMASTERIC REFLEX CORSET, 2002 stainless steel, brass,bronze, steel, plastic 84 x 24 x 15 Inches
An interactive sculpture featuring a red wire attached to a model machine.
CREMASTERIC REFLEX CORSET, 2002 (detail) stainless steel, brass, bronze, steel, plastic 84 x 24 x 15 inches
An interactive steampunk chest piece with a chain attached for added flair.
LITTLE BLACK SKIRT, 2014 hot forged mild steel, brass, garnet, amethyst 36 x 18 x 18 inches
A woman in a steampunk costume posing for a photo at an interactive sculpture exhibit.
CHASTITY CHAIN CORSET, 2016 hot forged steel, bronze, brass, amethyst 36 x 18 x 18 inches
A woman is posing in front of an interactive sculpture made of wires.
HEADDRESS F-1 mild steel, spring steel mesh, brass, amethyst, garnet 84 x 48 x 36 inches Photo Nina Silva
An interactive sculpture of a beetle on a black background.
HEADDRESS F-1 2018 mild steel, spring steel mesh, brass, amethyst, garnet 84 x 48 x 36 inches
An interactive sculpture of a bird on a black background.
(right) HEADDRESS MALE-1, 2019 hot forged mild steel, spring steel mesh, brass, garnet, amethyst 72 x 60 x 36 inches (above) HEADDRESS MALE-1, 2016 (detail) 72 x 60 x 36 inches
A close up of an interactive steampunk bike sculpture.
(above) HEADDRESS MALE-1, 2016 hot forged mild steel, spring steel mesh, brass, garnet, amethyst 72 x 60 x 36 inches (Right Detail)
An interactive sculpture depicting a woman in a suit with wires attached to her body.
E.DETOX, 2021 mild steel, bronze, stainless steel, spring steel mesh, aluminum. brass, garnet, amethyst Photo Anthony Weatherly (right) Detail Open Kidney w/silver butterfly's
An interactive sculpture featuring a woman's back adorned with wires.
An interactive sculpture resembling a human heart.
HEARTFELT, 2020 (above) detail of interior of the heart (right) Front view closed bronze heart mild steel, cast bronze, brass, garnet, amethyst 72 x 36 x 36 inches
An interactive sculpture with attached wires.
An image of a woman in an interactive mesh dress.
HEARTFELT, 2020 (model view) Photo Anthony Weatherly
An image of a woman in an interactive sculpture made of wires.
THE HOPE, 2022 mild steel, cast bronze, stainless steel, spring steel mesh, aluminum, brass, garnet, amethyst 72 x 48 x 48 inches Photo Anthony Weatherly"
An interactive metal sculpture suspended from the ceiling.
THE HOPE, 2022 mild steel, cast bronze, stainless steel, spring steel mesh, aluminum, brass, garnet, amethyst 72 x 48 x 48 inches
An interactive sculpture featuring a skull on a metal piece.
Above: THE HOPE (detail) Baby in Uterus
Three interactive sculptures are showcased in an art gallery.
Bitfactory Gallery installation, "The Hope" and "Heartfelt
A woman in a bikini and a man in a tuxedo standing on an interactive sculpture runway.

Published by IDS Designs, LLC,Denver, CO
copyright 2023 Ira Sherman all rights reserved