Photo by Warren Perlstein
Kao Ra Zen, born Kenya Fulton, hails from Chicago, Illinois. Kao's art practice involves creative writing, spoken word, music, video directing, and performance art. He has also worked on creative projects in the mediums of drawing, painting, acting, modeling, and dance. He has curated events and performed at many prominent venues throughout Chicago including Symphony Center, Links Hall, Dank Haus (German American Cultural Center), Subterranean, Alhambra Palace, and Elastic Arts. In his travels, he has performed and exhibited artwork in Germany, performed at an Open Mic in Guatemala, and helped to install solar panels in El Salvador.
Kao's poetry has appeared in 'Not My President-The Anthology of Dissent' from Thoughtcrime Press, 'Illinois's Best Emerging Poets' and 'America's Best Emerging Poets' from Z Publishing, 'A Love Supreme' (an oral history of Chicago Hip Hop collective, the legendary Nacrobats), Fnewsmagazine, Tuck Magazine, Highland Park Poetry, and 'Gut Check digest' from Shady Pines Radio.
In February 2020, Kao released his first official music video, "Morning In America", a controversial work that would twice be removed from YouTube. Kao would direct the debut music video, "Killing in the Name of Love" for longtime friend and creative collaborator, Dodo Mafioso, first released in April 2020. Following the murder of George Floyd, Kao would team up with another Chicago Hip-Hop stalwart, Ness The God, to release the single and music video, "I'm Tired", on the 4th of July, 2020. Kao would continue to release a string of music videos, "G.O.D. Bless", "Advent", "F.T.A.", "Fight Forever", and "Live Forever" featuring production from long-time collaborators Yodaroc and SILIS101, two of his fellow crew-members in the Nacrobats collective (founded in 1993), which also features prominent Chicago Hip-Hop artists such as Pugs Atomz, Thesselonious, and Thaione Davis.
Kao has studied Middle Eastern dance from notable bellydance star and instructor, Surayah Al-Muddaris and performed as part of the Firqit Surayah dance troupe at Alhambra Palace Restaurant for a number of years.
Kao is a member of IAG (International Art Group), a loose collective founded by German-born Marianna Buchwald. IAG has presented performances, screenings, workshops, and exhibitions in Chicagoland and Germany that have included work from artists of many disciplines from across the globe.
In 2015, he would earn an Associate in Fine Arts degree from Harold Washington College. A recipient of a Presidential Merit Scholarship, Kao would earn his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in December 2020. He teaches weekly poetry classes at Hyde Park Academy High School and is also pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing at Chicago State University. Kao has facilitated numerous family art-making workshops at public libraries, community centers, and events such as the Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest.
Kao has been recording material for his solo debut album, as well as working on music with his performance art/music troupe, The Ungovernables.
In 2021, Kao was a featured performer as part of the inaugural Afro Utah Festival in Salt Lake City. In 2022, he performed as part of the annual Chicago Hip-Hop Theater Fest, the TEDx: Showtime: Chi✶Time event, as well the annual Chairman Fred Hampton Streetz Party.
Kao was recently commissioned by NON:op to create a response to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Salvatore Martirano's L's GA. For this project, Kao developed a multimedia performance entitled 'FATE of the UNION ADDRESS', that was presented during a concert tour in March 2023 that saw performances in Bloomington, Urbana, and Chicago, IL. Kao has many upcoming performance events and art exhibitions throughout 2023, including a September performance with every house has a door at the Turku City Theater in Finland as part of the New Performance Turku Biennale, and October performance at Links Hall in Chicago. Kao will also been invited to attend the 8th annual Summer Poetry Teachers Institute at the University of Miami by the Poetry Foundation. 2023 will also see the 6th installment of 'HIPPY HOLY DAZE', an annual music and art holiday celebration curated and hosted by Kao Ra Zen, that always features a diverse lineup of performers and visual artists. Recently, Kao joined the Board of Directors for NON:op and looks forward to working with them to curate and present more creative community programming.
Photo by Javier Enriquez