We Can’t Stop Looking at These Extremely Sexual Photos of Fruit

This Instagram account will make you squirm.

Stephanie Sarley plays with her food. Then she posts it online. The 28-year-old Bay Area artist is known for her provocative pictures of fruit—which have caught on in a big way: She has 225,000 Instagram followers and counting. Sarley thinks a lot about censorship, copyright infringement, and what makes people uncomfortable and why. I caught up with her to talk about all of that, plus her can’t-look-away art.

Photo courtesy Stephanie Sarley

Mother Jones: How did the fruit art start?

Stephanie Sarley: It was a totally spontaneous occurrence. I had gone to my local market and got all this fruit and I brought it home and I just fingered at it. I filmed it and put it on Instagram and it was a total hit. The comments started rolling in and everyone was freaking out. I wasn’t quite aware of the impact it was going to have on people.

Photo courtesy Stephanie Sarley

MJ: Why do you think people react so strongly to it?

SS: At first I thought it was the image of the vulva and the vagina, it being surrealistic and also being semi-perverted. Maybe it makes them uncomfortable to see fruit in a way they don’t normally. The surprising thing was a lot of women got mad, as if I made them think about something they didn’t want to think about. And men also thought of it more objectively, or as only a gender thing. I got a lot of appreciation from people in the queer community as well. To be a provocateur wasn’t quite the intention of the project, but it’s totally fun and I’ve gone with it.

Illustration courtesty Stephanie Sarley

 

MJ: Tell me about when Instagram first took down your account.

SS: Right when I was starting to get more popular, before the fruit fingering started, I posted an image of a banana with a condom and pins in it. Within 10 minutes, I got shut down. I was devastated. I was just starting to get recognition. I had 10,000 followers. I was selling my book. Jerry Saltz had just started following me! So I wrote to [Instagram] to say I’m an artist, not a pornographer. And they wrote back: Your profile violated our terms of services; we took you down because your work is inappropriate. I disputed it over and over again. I kept writing them obsessively. I said, “I am an artist, so you’re not going to do this to me. You’re not going to censor my work.” I actually ended up getting my profile restored in under two weeks.

photo courtesy Stephanie Sarley

 

MJ: I’ve seen your work pop up in other places. How do you handle copyright issues?

SS: It’s a giant battle to reclaim my art. You know, the internet is a great platform for people who didn’t have the privilege to go to the best art school, but we need to create a safer environment for creatives who don’t want their stuff ripped off. I don’t have a credit card to rely on. People are stealing my art and putting it on their albums, meme-ing it, and I need to find a new way to approach it.

Photo courtesy Stephanie Sarley

MJ: What’s next for you?

SS: I want to move on to big projects in physical spaces. I plan to do more art shows. I’ve been studying art my entire life; I don’t want to be just one thing. I don’t want to be “the crazy fruit finger-er.” I’m not just a weird sexual fetishist on the internet.

 

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Dear Reader,

This feels like the most important fundraising drive since I've been CEO of Mother Jones, with staggeringly high stakes and so much uncertainty. In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," I try to unpack the reality we all face and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support Mother Jones’ nonprofit journalism: We need to raise $400,000 to help cover the vital reporting projects we have planned, and right now is no time to pull back.

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