For Latinx artists, music has long been a catalyst used to explore the complexities of identity — and album covers are no different.
The newest exhibit at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, “Visual Clave: The Expression of the Latino/an Experience through Album Cover Art: 1940-90,” brings together a series of album covers and the accompanying art that provided social and political commentary on Latinx life.
The covers provided artists an outlet to positively define and reinforce Latinx identities and experiences.
“In this way, album covers became coded visual sites of resistance, cultural pride and social commentary,” said the exhibit description.
“Visual Clave” was curated by University of Oregon professor Philip W. Scher and Pablo E. Yglesias, a Cuban-American researcher, writer, musician, artist and DJ.
Although the exhibit features album covers from 1940-90, the nine major themes tackled by the album covers still resonate with the Latinx community today.
The exhibit explored themes like dance, food, protest and resistance, Latinx pride, feminism in relation to Latinx identity.
Willie Colón’s album, “La Gran Fuga,” or “The Great Escape,” which deals with the criminalization of Latinx people, is a highlight of the exhibit. The cover features Colón’s “mugshot” in a wanted-by-the-FBI poster under the alias “The Hustler.” According to the cover, Colón and Hector LaVoe are “known to kill people with little provocation with their exciting rhythm without a moment’s notice.”
“Visual Clave investigates the many ways musicians, promoters and designers mobilized their talents to penetrate mainstream American markets and create a public voice for countering prejudice and discrimination,” reads the exhibit’s description.
As part of the exhibit, the music from the featured album covers is played throughout the room and a pair of claves — an important instrument in Latinx music — invite viewers to either try to follow along or create their own beat.
The exhibit uses the “Super Salsa Singers” album cover to comment on lack of representation. The cover portrays iconic Latinx musicians, like LaVoe and Celia Cruz, as the equally iconic and often white-washed Marvel and DC characters.
With album covers for “Sorry, No Espik Ingli” by Luis Santi y Su Conjunto and “Un Mojado Sin Licencia” (A wetback without a licence) by Los Dos Rebeldes, the exhibit makes a clear point for how artists were using covers to reclaim their identities. In this case, a common derogatory term and the thick accent that is used to single out Spanish speakers.
“The exhibit aims to show how the record jacket is not just an ephemeral mass-produced object,” read the exhibit’s description, “but also serves as a unique window into various sociological and historical aspects of a culture.”
“Visual Clave” will be running through April 21, 2019. It can be seen at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, open Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Wednesdays from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. For more information about the museum visit their website.