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Screengrab via stephanie_sarley/Instagram

No produce is safe.

I discovered artist Stephanie Sarley’s Instagram account before a screening of John Waters’ Pink Flamingos. A friend pulled up her most iconic video and proceeded to blow my mind. 

It’s a simple enough image. A blood orange, halved, lying on a counter, carpels up. Two fingers enter the shot and begin to gently stroke the central pith. The strokes go deeper. Bright red juice splashes onto the fruit’s flesh and rind. The fingers plunge into the fruit and you see bubbles form, froth, and pop. Then they withdraw, leaving behind a slippery hole. 

It’s unaccountably hot, but it also has a soothing quality reminiscent of ASMR videos, or the scene in Amélie where the heroine dips her hand into a barrel of beans. Watching Sarley’s fingers, a viewer cannot help but imagine that touch on their flesh. Somehow, that image was more shocking and indelible than 90 minutes of Divine’s most flamboyant filth. I felt I had to know the artist who had made it.

Sarley’s videos have certainly hit a nerve online. Her Instagram has racked up more than 61,000 followers, and each of her videos garners well over a thousand favorites and hundreds of comments—from fans and trolls alike. Her popularity has been a blessing and a curse: Instagram has disabled her account three times, and her videos are often stolen by meme accounts, reposted with unauthorized edits and no credit to the artist. 

Her work has also inspired countless fan videos: so many, she told me, that she’s considered creating a separate account solely for reposts of these homemade tributes. A quick dip into the comments will show that many of her fans consider her videos extremely educational.

The blood orange is a witty and perfect substitute for a vulva, but Sarley doesn’t stop there. Her Instagram account contains videos of her fingering limes, lemons, strawberries, apricots, grapefruits, kiwis and papayas. In some, she adds milk for a cream-pie effect. In others, she fists melons.

Sarley is not only a finger porn auteur, however. Her work is firmly seated in the yonic, but in that shape she clearly sees endless possibilities. She is the author of the Dick Dog & Friends Coloring Book and the creator of two cartoon portrait series, Orcunts and Crotch Monsters, which replace vulvae with flowers and cartoon faces.
(Sorry, this embed was not found.)
Sarley agreed to meet me in her native Oakland to shop for fresh supplies. We had originally planned to hit the Berkeley Bowl, a bougie staple with an extensive bulk foods section and an entire aisle for probiotics, but she changed her mind and asked me to meet her at Yasai Produce Market in North Oakland, where she usually shops. 

It’s a small shop just across the street from a monstrous Safeway, and it clearly stays in business through the fierce loyalty of its customers. Flats of fruit are displayed at the entrance with signs proclaiming their farm of origin—all within a 50-mile radius. Sarley and I strolled the aisles while she periodically squeezed or stroked various fruits. Her hand movements were tentative and thoughtful. She felt every fruit in a basket before making her selection. Occasionally she pulled out a particularly rude specimen and fingered any indentation, as though testing its fuckability.

@stephanie_sarley finds the sexiest cantaloupe

A video posted by Madeline Gobbo (@dickplodocus) on

OK. The first thing I want to know is, why blood oranges?

Honestly, it was sort of spontaneous. My boyfriend handed me an orange and I just started playing with it, then decided to make a video. The penetration and the blood... I wasn’t even aware of those associations. After I create an art piece, I’ll learn about it through other people viewing it, or just through myself reflecting on it. I wasn’t even aware of the impact it was going to have on people.

Then I just branched out. Peaches, lemons, grapefruits... I’ve tried a couple of limes, but they’re too small. My fingers look huge! The blood orange is top, but Meyer lemon squirt is my absolute favorite. It was unexpected when the juice hit the camera.

From my interview with the great @stephanie_sarley for @dailydot

A video posted by Madeline Gobbo (@dickplodocus) on

As is all squirting.

I tried fingering a regular lemon, and it just didn’t do the same thing. I’d like to finger a pineapple, but it’s too stiff.

You need an orifice.

I was fingering these Hawaiian papayas. I thought they were very yonic, and vaginal. But these Mexican ones are different. Elongated.

Discussing the fistability of the Mexican papaya with @stephanie_sarley

A video posted by Madeline Gobbo (@dickplodocus) on

It’s kind of a womb shape.

Do you think I could fist it?

Definitely. Do you eat the fruit afterwards?

If it’s fresh I do. I get accused of food-wasting. I think it’s just an outlet for people to complain. But I do eat the fruit. Sometimes I’ll cut it up and put it in a salad.

Even when it has milk in it?

I’ll wash it out, scoop the seeds out. There was one video where I poured milk into a lime. I didn’t know this, but adding lime juice to milk makes cheese. So it got all crumbly and weird. I didn’t eat that. If it is rotten I throw it away. Sometimes for the purposes of art I find that it’s okay. Especially when the food industry is already so bad, I feel like it’s kind of ridiculous for people to be giving me crap about it.

I already have some dinosaur apricots. They’re yellow and have a sort of red paint dash in the center. Definitely want to pick up a few kiwis. You want it to juice, ideally. Can’t be too firm. You need a little bit of give. [Feeling the fruit.] I don’t want to damage them, but I have to squeeze them a bit. I love the seeds. I miss seeds in watermelon. I used to complain about it, but now I miss it.

Do you have a ripening bowl?

I do, actually, I have a nice basket. It’s in the shade, not direct sunlight. I check on them daily.

How to choose a good honeydew, according to @stephanie_sarley

A video posted by Madeline Gobbo (@dickplodocus) on

You’ve had some issues with Instagram and censorship. What happened when they disabled your account?

The first time, I was deleted when I posted a picture of banana with pins in it—but it wasn’t about that. They suddenly disabled my account, randomly, and then I contested and got it back about a week later. I created the blood orange video, I posted it, and then it went totally viral, and then a day later I got disabled again, after I’d started reporting on copyright infringement. I rampantly reported maybe four or five at once, and there were a bunch of memers... the memer that stole my piece and put his watermark on it had put it on five of his sites, so I was going all over the place doing this, and in the midst of it they disabled my account, with 25,000 followers, and I needed that platform to find out where these copyright infringements were. So I felt mostly devastated at the time and completely alone in the fact that I could not hunt these down.

Did you manage to talk to any humans at Instagram?

Actually, yeah, we emailed each other. That’s a whole other story having to do with the lemon squirt video that was stolen from me by another teenage boy. It’s always a 15-year-old boy who’s super angry and doesn’t understand copyright laws. It’s obnoxious to try to reason with these people, because you can’t. When I approached the first one he was like, “Shoulda watermarked your shit, ho.” It’s unbelievable how they feel entitled to my work. 

I get messages from people that are furious that I would dare report on infringement of my own work. I was like, “Do you get that you’re literally stealing my art?” A lot of these people do understand that, but they just don’t care. It’s just part of the culture, the meme culture. It’s about theft and it’s about art theft and video theft, period. It’s about basically dumbing down society to a certain extent and making everything invisible.

I feel washed out by being memed. There’s no way around feeling that way, when you see your art somewhere, it just takes the life out of you. I can get up and move on from this, but I know it will never get off the Internet. 

I stand with knowing that I own the copyrights, it’s my video, I created it. It’s OK. Slowly but surely, I’m feeling better about it every day, but in the midst of the copyright reporting, when it was four or five pages of Gmail that was just copyright takedowns.

I didn’t invent fingering fruit. It’s a natural thing to finger things, to play with your food. But, what I invented was a compelling video that meant something to people, about menstruation and virginity and sex and love. It meant so many different things. Some people thought I was a man, some people thought I was a woman, some people were offended. It just went on. I guess that’s a valuable thing that affects people that much, and that’s okay, but there’s also that feeling of grabbing it through the Internet like, “GIVE IT BACK!” It felt like stretching through a time warp. It feels like a virus on a computer that’s spiraling, and it can never be undone. That’s what a meme is. A virus that attaches to you. People would tell me, “Why aren’t you grateful you’re a meme? It means you’re now part of pop culture.” It wasn’t even the memers. It was just people who thought I should be happy about it.

It brings the art demon out of you.

What do memers do with your videos?

Well, they’re taking them and squaring them off and adding their own little blurb above it. The one that’s popular has something to do with, “When she’s a freak…” I actually refuse to memorize the phrase because I don’t even want to acknowledge it. I think the biggest damage it’s done is that people now associate my work with that, all over the world.

Do you block people?

Yeah, I do, I have to, because they’ll continually comment mean things, and after a certain point it’s like, OK, you can stop.

Why do you think people, and trolls, are drawn to your account?

I work hard... creating my own vision and aesthetic and what I want my art to say. So I curate it so that people can enjoy it the way that I want them to. 

I think women are trolled more on the Internet, period. Men do get trolls, but especially as a woman, dealing with the female body, and you’re saying something about the vagina and the vulva, it’s very personal. It’s a touchy subject. Feminism is controversial for people. It’s my work. If it has to be worked out controversially, that’s okay. Artwork is not always sunshine. I just don’t let it get to my core. I just block, block, block. 

I have a whole list of reasons why I’d block. Guys ask for nudes. Absolutely no. Not often. I got more before I went viral, but I think I also don’t notice them as much now because of all the other fan mail. But I had a guy today who was trying to slide in, saying, “Hey, I think you’re great, I think you’re beautiful, your art is sexy, so, like, what are your fetishes? I bet you’re into some crazy shit.” And then sometimes it’s just one word, like, “Pics?” “Nudes?” As if I’m that easy. I have “copyright Stephanie Sarley” at the top of my website! What do I look like? It’s quite unbelievable, the audacity of some of these men.

That’s the problem, that women internalize it, as if it’s their problem, that they’re doing something wrong, when really it’s the men who can’t control themselves. I compare unsolicited dick pics to the modern-day flasher. You don’t find as many cases of people flashing anymore, and now I really do think people take it out by sending their dicks everywhere. It’s a level of violation I think most women don’t cross. I don’t get unsolicited flashes from women. They just aren’t going to do it, because it’s disgusting and rude. I don’t consider it a compliment. I think, “Fuck you, you don’t take my art seriously and I’m disgusted with you.”

It’s okay to turn people on. I don’t want to be serious about my art 100 percent. Titillation is fun, and sexualization of fruit is great, and that makes me really happy. I don’t have a problem when the comments are erotic or sexual. That’s fine. There’s a level of violating someone’s personal space in DM—that’s too much. I don’t want to come across as I take myself so seriously that I don’t see that side of my art. I can’t blame people if they become turned on by that. It makes me feel happy.

Have you thought about how Instagram is defining obscenity in regards to your videos? Because there’s nothing explicit, no actual body parts. Even the finger motion isn’t necessarily sexual.

I could just be juicing.

What Instagram drone is sitting in his office clicking through your videos and deciding, OK, this one crosses the line?

Weirdly enough, a friend of mine, an Internet friend who runs a meme account, posted a pomelo video of mine after the original incident, and Instagram deleted it within an hour.

They deleted it from his account but not yours?

Yes! I don’t think they’re organized enough. I’m sure it’s moderator by moderator. I don’t think anybody’s pulling the horn on my videos.

I’m curious about what that office looks like.

They probably have a dart board with my picture right in the middle. Because I send them more copyright infringement reports than anybody.

Oh, I wanted to tell you about lemon squirt. The video was taken by one of my fans who had edited some porn sounds over it, and it was brought to my attention. I was like, “Please no.” He only had a few thousand followers. I overlooked it for a few days because he was a fan who I know was a fan. But that is technically a copyright infringement. You’re not supposed to edit my work and post it.

How do you feel about fan videos?

I love them. People send me videos of themselves playing with their food at a party or at work. I get all different kinds. It makes me so happy, and it has nothing to do with how I feel about the infringement cases. It’s interesting, there’s that very thin line, but it’s also so obvious, if you look at people’s energy. It doesn’t always have to have a credit. I don’t have an issue with people fingering fruit necessarily, it’s just that when you’re doing exactly the same as me and you’re calling it art and not crediting me, there’s a level of disrespect. I feel conflicted about that. Where does the truth lie? Where does it go from inspiration to infringement?

It’s a really hard question. You have to take it case by case.

In particular, one person made some videos in my exact style, and fans brought it to my attention. I didn’t really care, until she started to @ my fans back and say that she thought I sucked, that my art was bullshit and it wasn’t art. But her video was exactly like my work! She was fingering a blood orange or a grapefruit. I was like, “Dude! Have some respect!”

(Sorry, this embed was not found.)

Can we talk about the Orcunts? Where did they come from?

Those come from censorship, actually. They were created because at the time I was creating a lot of drawings of vaginas, and erotic drawings of women, and they would get removed from my online accounts. So I thought, I’m going to create something that is a vagina, but you don’t know it. You can’t remove it, because it’s a flower. 

And it ties into the tradition of women in art, and yonic representation in feminist art. It definitely reflects that history. Judy Chicago is an inspiration. Georgia O’Keefe. I wasn’t aware of [Chicago’s] The Dinner Party until people messaged about it and I realized that it was all part of a collective consciousness, a community of women artists all trying to communicate the same thing. It’s also about presenting the body beautifully. Every vagina is unique and different. They’re pretty. I like to draw the big labias, the small ones, and you can represent those with different types of flowers. Orcunts is a play on words, obviously. I like to own the word “cunt.” Do you know about RuPaul’s acronym? He says C.U.N.T. stands for “Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent.” It’s my favorite thing! The reason I started owning that word.

Picnic time

A photo posted by Stephanie Sarley (@stephanie_sarley) on

Do you see pussies everywhere now?

Yes! I have one on my tree over there, if you want to take a picture of it. I just discovered it as I’m moving out, and I’m sad that I didn’t have more time with it.

Treepussy, copyright @stephanie_sarley

A photo posted by Madeline Gobbo (@dickplodocus) on

What does your work say about the female gaze?

I love that a woman can masturbate when she wants, she can have sex when she wants, she can choose her partners. I seek to battle these stereotypes, that mentality that women can’t own their sexuality. They can, and it’s really powerful.

That’s why your copyright battles are so important, because you’re fighting to own work that’s about owning your body.

That is where it hurts, but it also makes an interesting experience. Dealing with what happened to me.

Do you think you’ll make art about it?

Maybe. I think it’s definitely changed the direction of my work and how I put it out there.

Where will you go from here?

Right now I’m searching for a publisher to publish a book of the Crotch Monsters and Orcunts. I need to hone in on different avenues. I think the business/professional side needs to be addressed.

You ought to be getting paid.

Right. I’m at a turning point right now where I’m changing directions. I have lots of prints framed and ready to go on a gallery wall. I’m on the brink of having a solo show. Somewhere in the next time sphere I want to do a solo show where I project my fruit art on the walls, with prints and books for sale. I’m bringing it all together.

Going back to the female gaze: Your videos also present the idea of a female touch. The way that you touch is feminine.

Well, I can get real nasty, but I don’t go there all the way.

But I think the gentleness is appealing. It’s something you don’t see in porn.

Right, I like to pet the fruit, and then do the clit, and a little bit of the labia.

You’re giving the fruit pleasure.

I’m glad you feel that way. I get “fruit rapist” a lot. One person hashtagged Stephanie Sarley on Twitter the other day and called me the Perverted Fruit Rapist. A lot of people, especially vegans, get very offended and say, “Was that consensual? I don’t think the fruit would want that. You’re violating the fruit!” The vegans were really disappointed by my videos with milk, but otherwise I also get a lot of comments like, “Vegan porn!”

I was drawn to your work, also, because of a personal interest in hands and fingers.

I’m totally into hands, too. It’s an artist thing. They’re what we make our art with.

It’s sexy. Hands are the most expressive part of your body besides your face.

We communicate with them.

You have famous fingers, you know.

Really? I like that you said that. I get a lot of shit for how messy my fingernails are.

They’re a real person’s hands.

I should start creaming, since I have famous hands.

You should keep them hermetically sealed.

I’ll keep them in UV bags. I feel like a hand model, actually. I thought about doing that years ago. I’ve always thought my hands were nice and strong. Not necessarily the most feminine hands. That’s something I like about them. Sometimes I wish I had small hands, but you gotta own who you are.

They’re excellent for fingering.

A lot of people will be like, “There’s no way this is a chick! Look at those hands!”

Met with @dailydot today! Interview and more vids coming up

A video posted by Stephanie Sarley (@stephanie_sarley) on

What would you say to young female artists who are inspired by your work?

Stay strong, remember who you are. Focus on what art means to you. Channel anything hard that’s happening to you with school or family or relationships into art, and that will help carry you. It will help you be happy. If you want to build a portfolio, stay focused and talk to your mentors and create community. Remember to look for women artists in history and try to remember them.

My main drive isn’t just to inspire young women, although that’s enriching, I just want to inspire any young artist to be inspired by their own life, and not necessarily look at other artists, because the world is filtered through their vision. What art is to me is your interpretation of how you feel about the world. What am I about? What am I going to say to the world?

💛

A photo posted by Stephanie Sarley (@stephanie_sarley) on


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