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Play Smart -- 2011 Artist Edition Trading Cards by Michael Alago, Mike Harwood, Luna Luis Ortiz and Paul Mpagi Sepuya

Play Smart trading cards are an honest and straight-forward approach to promote harm reduction, HIV testing and post-exposure prophylaxis. Play Smart is packaged with two trading cards, a sticker, condoms and lube. The back of each trading card features information to help you play smart.

Produced by Visual AIDS for free distribution, Play Smart features commissioned photographs by Michael Alago, Mike Harwood, Luna Luis Ortiz and Paul Mpagi Sepuya and designed by John Chaich.


Play Smart is available at various NYC bars, LGBT organizations, health centers and other locations, including Boxers, Gym Bar, The LGBT Center, GMHC, Callen Lorde, Leslie Lohman Gay Art Foundation, The Men's Sexual Health Project (M*SHP), Printed Matter, Visual AIDS and at selective national locations -- while supplies last.

Play Smart is available in bulk for free distribution while supplies last, at the cost of shipping and handling. To order your safer sex trading cards for distribution, download the order form here.

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Artists' Statements and Bios

Michael Alago
I am always grateful to work with Visual AIDS, especially when they asked me to contribute to the Play Smart campaign. Many a night beginning in the 1980's, I received AIDS related dementia phone calls from friends who were suffering with toxoplasmosis. All I could do was listen to their rants and be comforting and loving. It was a scary and sad time for all of us in the gay community. It was a time I would never wish on anybody. My friends were getting very sick and dying. At some point AZT became available but one didn't know if it was a help or not and still many died. Here we are in 2011 and thank God for the anti-virals and AIDS cocktails that are helping many to survive longer. The Play Smart trading card campaign is awesome to be part of because it keeps awareness high. It amazes me that the youth of today are not well informed, so I will do anything and everything that I can to help spread the word to practice safe sex… I am here, so use me as a voice. Amen.

Michael Alago is a renowned photographer and music producer. A collection of his work entitled Rough Gods was published in 2005, and a new coffee-table book, Brutal Truth, published in March 2011 by Bruno Gmunder is now available. Michael also collaborated with Life of Agony singer Keith Caputo on a book of poems, observations and rants called Night Blooming Jasmine Will Never Smell The Same, which was published in the fall of 2010. A seminal producer and talent scout for nearly 20 years, Michael Alago has become a household name in the music industry for his expertise in a variety of musical genres. In addition to discovering Metallica, Alago has accumulated a roster that includes such diverse artists as Michael Feinstein, Johnny Rotten, White Zombie, and Nina Simone. 2010 saw Alago team up with Cyndi Lauper on her Grammy-nominated album "Memphis Blues," for which he acted as A&R executive.

Mike Harwood
I'm honored that Visual AIDS has given me the opportunity to work on this project. As an artist living for more than twenty-five years with HIV-AIDS, making art has been essential to my survival strategy, and Visual AIDS has been immeasurably helpful to me in that endeavor. When I first heard the title of this campaign, "Play Smart", I was drawn to the word "Play", probably because it's elemental to both sex and art. So I made some playful photos of sexy guys playing athletes, playing on the word "play" -- an entertaining way to deliver a serious message. I've played my part. Now, the "Smart" part is up to you.

A native New Yorker, Mike Harwood has been an exhibiting artist since the mid 1970's, when he produced a series of collages exploiting homoerotic undertones in mass-market magazine ads. These were included in the seminal "It's a Gender Show" at Group Material (NYC). He turned to 35mm photography as a means of recording the visual stimuli he encountered in the city and in his travels. Like-minded friends were his first models, and his rambling apartment with eat-in kitchen proved to be an inspiring setting for erotic photography. His work has been shown at the National Arts Club (NYC), the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation (NYC), the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Sara Lawrence College, the Menschel Photography Gallery at Syracuse University, mdh fine arts and ClampArt (NYC). It has been published in The James White Review, The Archive: Journal of the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation, Treasures of Gay Art from the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation and Self-Exposure: the Male Nude Self-Portrait.

Luna Luis Ortiz
When I first saw the Play Safe trading card project, I was in awe of how powerful and beautifully clever the information was. I collected all of them and shared them with my friends. When I was asked to be a part of the project I was excited because it was my chance to do what I do as a Community Health Specialist at GMHC but it also was an opportunity for me to show case my work as an artist living 25 years with HIV. I enjoy shooting portraits and I was thrilled for this opportunity. Visual AIDS has always been supportive of the work I have been doing since 1995.

According to Luna Luis Ortiz, he learned photography from watching Marlene Dietrich films. He began taking pictures at the age of 13. Infected with HIV at 14 in 1986 made Ortiz focus on photography much more because "it was my voice". By the 1990's Ortiz assist David LaChapelle and later worked with Nan Goldin. He has always be open about his HIV status, and have been featured on MTV, VH1, Telemundo, LOGO, MSNBC and PBS documentary specials. Ortiz's photographs have been published in OUT, BLUE, VIBE, Gay Times, Teen People, Contact Sheet, The New York Times, Advocate, POZ, Callaloo, Time Out NY, Daily News, HX, Next, QV, Gay City News, A&U and the cover of SHADE: An Anthology of Fiction of Gay Men of African Descent. His work is in the permanent collection at the Kresge Art Museum, and his photographs and installations have been exhibited at Paul Morris Gallery, Thread Waxing Space, Art In General, National Arts Club, Boston Center of the Arts, Seagram Gallery and the New Museum of Contemporary Art.

Paul Mpagi Sepuya
I was introduced to Visual AIDS and their amazing archive of artists's works several years ago, and have been proud to work with help support the organization by curating it's archive for the online galleries as well as making works for their Postcards from the Edge benefits. When asked to contribute some new imagery for the Play Smart safer-sex project I was really excited to come up with some playful sporty portraits for the good cause. Thanks to Ryan, Diego and Tony for suiting up!

Paul Mpagi Sepuya (1982, San Bernardino, CA) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. He studied photography and imaging at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in New York, Los Angeles, Basel, Sydney, Toronto, Paris, Berlin and Hamburg. His work has been featured and reviewed in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Interview, Capricious, V, Paper, and BUTT, among other publications. Recent exhibitions include 30 Seconds Off an Inch at The Studio Museum in Harlem and 50 Artists Photograph the Future at Higher Pictures and recent awards include the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's Workspace Residency (2009-2010) and Artist-in-Residence at the Center for Photography at Woodstock (2010). A monograph of his work was published in April 2007. The Accidental Egyptian and Occidental Arrangements, a publication of his collaboration with fellow artist Timothy Hull, was just published in Summer 2010. Sepuya is currently 2010-2011 Artist-in-Residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

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