It all started with two fingers sensually probing half a blood orange. Oakland-based artist Stephanie Sarley uploaded the juicy video to her Instagram account in early 2016, and as the internet lost its collective mind, with everyone from Playboy to The Guardian weighing in on whether or not being knuckle-deep in citrus was NSFW, the video garnered more than 200K views and catapulted Sarley to internet art fame.
Sarley's citrus videos were so ripe that Instagram deleted her account on multiple occasions, claiming they were in breach of their terms of service, though luckily, through conversations with the media and a lofty letter to the Better Business Bureau, she was able to retrieve it. "That's when censorship came in play. It wasn't just about fruit or whatever. Instagram deleted a vagina representation in an orange, and it was absurd," Sarley tells The Creators Project..
Sarley did not initiate the project with the intention of starting a conversation around censorship and the public's aversion to expressions of female sexualty. She sees food as a representation of life, in that we depend on it to survive. Expressing her emotions using a material that symbolizes the abundance of life, and has a strong association with portrayals of women throughout art history, seemed like a clear choice. While the project is, in part, an homage to the grandiose beauty of still lifes, Sarley is also exploring the darker powers of food, as she reckons with the after-effects of a teenage battle with anorexia. "I've had this strong association with food my entire life. I survived an eating disorder when I was, like, 13. It was just a few years, but that was something really intense for me, not eating. So making my art about food is a way of celebrating food and life," she says.
While the project started out as more of an exploration of texture and sensuality, Sarley's work has shifted to become more directly confrontational of censorship and attacks against women. "My work definitely speaks from the heart to marginalized people and women. I want to speak to all people. Coming from personal experience, oppression has always been a part of my life," she says.
Sarley's most recent project — an untitled film which premiered at We the People, a group show at WERKÄRTZ in Los Angeles — takes on a distinctly more aggressive tone, while her piece Fake President is one of a forthcoming series dealing directly with President Trump and his team. "I don't want to just do colloquial art, but you can't help but let it consume you, because like I said, I'm being oppressed by it. And I care about the people around me," she explains. Going forward, Sarley will continue to tackle the taboo and the political with her signature brand of sensuality and absurdity, forcing us to see even the most mundane objects as expressions of the world through these lenses. Soon, she will be self-publishing a book of posters. Until then, her fingers remain sticky and her vitamin C count impeccable.