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Courtesy Stephanie Sarley

How finger-fucking fruit became an act of protest

Stephanie Sarley’s notorious ‘fruit art videos’ offer a risqué riposte to social media’s strict censorship laws

On paper, the ‘fruit art videos’ of Stephanie Sarley don’t read as controversial. Why would they? The snappy 12-second clips show the Oakland artist gentling toying with avocados, melons and kiwis – caressing them a bit, dunking in a digit, then turning off the camera. “It was a spontaneous primal urge after a trip to the market with my boyfriend,” she says, remembering her first fruit film. “We had bought some blood oranges, and that night I just filmed it on a whim, and posted it to Instagram.” 

That whim, although initially innocuous, swiftly saw Sarley’s world explode. The visceral video was hailed as “genius” by New York Magazine critic Jerry Saltz, and caused the artist’s account to jump from just 10 followers to 125,000 in a matter of weeks. As the series went on, the films began to inspire their own meme movement; with countless copycat fruit fingerers offering their own disturbingly sexual clips. Perhaps most bizarrely, in an example of extreme social censorship, they even led to her account being blocked by Instagram.

Despite admitting that the clips are “undeniably” provocative, Sarley claims she never anticipated the response. “I'm using the sexualisation of fruit as a medium to express myself,” she explains. “I have learned more about the power of the imagination and how imagery of fruit and my fingers have brought out comments from people you would never believe. That's what makes this so interesting to me is how my videos almost serve as a reflective mirror for people to view what they will and project what they will at this imaginary representation of the vagina. I'm blown away with what it means to people and how much they have to say.”

While the films are undoubtedly divisive, they have helped highlight much bigger issues in the online world. Sarley admits to struggling with copyright over her original clips, and has been on the receiving end of vicious harassment from followers over the explicit nature of her work. After informing Instagram about both the trolls and copyright, however, the site’s response was not supportive; with the company opting instead to shut down her account over its “sexually suggestive” content.

Sarley, whose work focuses on fetishism and the female form, admits that her creations can be “bold”, but stresses that these videos shouldn’t be eliciting such extreme reactions. Like artist Megumi Igarashi – who was recently fined by the Japanese government for creating a selection of “obscene” vagina-based art – Sarley has come under attack from trolls who believe her work is both “disgusting” and offensive. “I’ve learned first hand that modern art is hard for the general public to accept and understand,” she says, with disappointment. “Most of my online bullying i've noticed is done by young girls or women who think I'm disgusting, and publicly voice it to me. I've learned that censorship of art is just as much of a problem as ever before, and I'm glad my experience with Instagram and censorship can shed light on the topic.”

She adds that the problem lies in the way society and the art world view women’s bodies. “There is still an uncomfortableness surrounding the imagery of the vulva, surreal or suggestive as in my case,” she says. “Vaginas are the centre of life, yet considered an obscenity still by many. For centuries the phallic symbol of the penis has been comfortably displayed in all forms of art but not the vulva as much. It's time for society to stop viewing women's bodies as a threat, something to censor, or exploit.”

See Stephanie Sarley’s full fruit art video collection here, or see out more of her work on her official website. Follow her on Instagram at @stephanie_sarley