Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tim Rollins and the K.O.S.: A History
Edited by Ian Berry
MIT Press
272 Pages

In 1981 a young artist and teacher named Tim Rollins ventured into the rotting rubble of the South Bronx, and began his first art class for at-risk middle school students with these words: “Today we are going to make art, and we are also going to make history.” Through thick (lionized by the New York art world) and thin (a student murdered, Rollins broke and virtually homeless) they did both. That first class led to an independent and self-renewing group that more than 25 years later still exists: the Kids of Survival, or K.O.S. The artwork they produced is bought and shown in major museums and galleries around the world.

Rollins channeled and challenged the energies of those first students, refusing to accept that a kid who could play a video game for eight hours straight was condemned to A.D.D., or a kid who could reproduce perfectly a long rap off a record was disabled by a learning disorder. Influenced by the theories of educators John Dewey, Jane Addams, Ivan Illich, Robert Coles and Paulo Freire, Rollins was also inspired by the actual writings of Martin Luther King as well as Emerson and Thoreau. “I have always thought that art, at its best, was a form of civil disobedience,” he said. “We are not going to take it the way it was given to us. We have the audacity to have a vision of something new.” [review continues after illustration.]

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