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The Art of Protection

November 16, 1998|PAMELA WARRICK

What is at once glamorous and conscientious, artful yet utilitarian, safe but oh-so-sexy?

It is the lowly condom, when it's all dressed up to go out in high-fashion packets designed by and for cool young Californians.

Starting this month, more than 150,000 avant-garde condom covers--the result of a statewide art contest--will be distributed by the Los Angeles County Sexually Transmitted Disease Program and federally funded family planning clinics throughout the state.

The six winning condom cover designs were mass-produced by the California Family Health Council and Marin-based Public Art Works with a $50,000 grant from the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

From 17-year-old Aaron Akwaboah's classically inspired rendering of an enormous rolled condom floating UFO-like above the planet to 22-year-old Cassandra V. Lai's stark "Love Is Blind" vision of a world of AIDS, genital warts, herpes and chlamydia, the covers are an eclectic mix of artistic themes and public health alerts.

But inside each of the palm-sized packets, the message is the same: Beware the dangers of unprotected sex. Some critics of the use of student designs to popularize condom distribution have said that the contest trivializes the issue of teenage sexual activity. But the students disagree. "Just because we talk about and decorate condoms doesn't mean we're telling kids to have sex," says Venice Ventresca, 22, of Indio, whose winning entry featured musical notes and magic wands. Other winning covers include a '70s-style green and yellow daisy "Condom Power" packet by Erik Christiansen, 20, of San Anselmo; a flowery pencil design titled "Sweet Expectation" by George Murillo, 16, of Sylmar; and a bold fist in the air from Eric Lister, 18, of Corte Madera.

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