Tim Rollins + K.O.S. : Where Art Becomes Life-Saving Activism!

Oct 6, 2014 | Life With Art

tim rollins and kos

When art becomes much more than just something to hang in a gallery, when it becomes a tool for social change, a piece of history and life-changing in ways you just can’t fathom… this is the stuff I dream about.  And this is what artist Tim Rollins created with K.O.S..  

tim rollins kos

If you don’t know what K.O.S. is, the Frye Art Museum gives a history of Kids Of Survival:

In August 1981, Tim Rollins, then twenty-six years old, was recruited by George Gallego, principal of Intermediate School 52 in the South Bronx, to develop a curriculum that incorporated art-making with reading and writing lessons for students classified as academically or emotionally “at risk.” Rollins told his students on that first day, “Today we are going to make art, but we are also going to make history.” Asked what he meant by “making history,” Rollins said:

“To dare to make history when you are young, when you are a minority, when you are working, or nonworking class, when you are voiceless in society, takes courage. Where we came from, just surviving is ‘making history.’ So many others, in the same situations, have not survived, physically, psychologically, spiritually, or socially. We were making our own history. We weren’t going to accept history as something given to us.”

Together, Rollins and his students developed a collaborative strategy that combined lessons in reading and writing with the production of works of art. In a process they call “jammin’,” Rollins or one of the students read aloud from the selected text while the other members drew, relating the stories to their own experiences. Their signature style was born as Rollins and K.O.S.—Kids of Survival—began producing works of art directly on the pages of these books, cut out and laid in a grid on canvas.

And today, there are K.O.S. workshops and programs all over the nation, some started by early members, all filled with passion for art and, in effect, its use to organize and create a new universe.

tim rollins kos

How exciting is this?!

tim rollins KOS

To look around at life, some of us have been given far more chances than others.

I talk a lot about expectation theory.  You know, the idea that “you get what you expect” has been proven.  In fact, you also get what you expect from others.  When your teachers don’t believe in you as a child,  it becomes enormously harder for you to believe in you.  This runs through all of our lives.  Expectation is a powerful force.  (*you can read more HERE) 

tim rollins kos

For many kids in high-risk environments, no one believes in them. They have no family support system, teachers are overwhelmed in their schools, and they can more than slip through the cracks through no fault of their own.  That’s part of why K.O.S. gives me chills in the statement:

” What we’re doing changes people’s conception about who can make art, how art is made, who can learn and what’s possible, because a lot of these kids had been written off by the school system. This is our revenge.” (via Crown Point Press)

You can grab a copy of the documentary of Kids Of Survival HERE if you want to learn more.

And you can find much more of Tim Rollins + K.O.S. art  HERE at Lehmann Maupin. 



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