Paris -- The ceramic vases and Hangeul-inspired tables on display and the Korean cuisine experience zone right smack in the heart of Paris are a testament to the power of Hallyu, as the government-run Korean Cultural Center reopened at a new venue on Wednesday as the Paris Korea Center.
Nearly four decades after its opening, the Korean Cultural Center in France decided to build its nest in a refurbished marble-white seven-story building near Paris’ Champs-Elysees and the Elysee Palace in the 8th arrondissement. The center shares its new home with the Paris branches of the Korea Tourism Organization and the Korea Creative Content Agency.
“Korean Cultural Center has been leading (Korea’s) cultural exchange with France, since its opening near the Eiffel Tower in 1980 as the first Korean cultural center in Europe,” Culture Minister Park Yang-woo said in his speech at the opening ceremony, touting France as “a country leading the global culture.”
Culture Minister Park Yang-soo speaks during the opening ceremony for the Paris Korea Center on Wednesday in Paris. (Ministry of Sports, Culture and Tourism)
“Korea is a nation that is like a melting pot of cultures, mixing various traditional cultures and novel modern culture. Here at the reopened Korea Center, I wish for cultures of France and Korea to meet, encourage and raise each other up, and contribute not only to the two countries, but also to the culture of Europe, and the entire world.”
The center’s director, John Hae-oung, welcomed the 510 government officials, artists and others from Korea and France to the ceremony, including Park, Korean ambassador to France Choi Jong-moon, French Sen. Vivette Lopez, Institut Francais chief Pierre Buhler, former French Culture and Communications Minister Fleur Pellerin and pianist Sunwoo Ye-kwon, who mesmerized the guests with his performance.
Sunwoo’s performance took place in a ground floor auditorium that can accommodate up to 150 people, built as a venue for various cultural events, including performances by budding artists from Korea.
“I hope it (the auditorium) can be used as a place for young musical prospects of Korea to be introduced to the world,” said director John. “In addition to performances, a regular showing of (Korean) films and dramas would be held here. As a young man, I grew fond of French culture through movies they showed at the French cultural center in Seoul. It holds a special meaning that we can now provide such opportunities for the French people.”
This includes the Korean “Drama Party” that is held annually in Paris by Bonjour Coree, a group of Korean culture enthusiasts in the French capital, featuring Korean dramas and other Korean cultural activities. This year’s event is to take place at the Paris Korea Center next weekend.
As a former French minister of culture, Fleur Pellerin stressed that interest in Korean culture has grown significantly in the past few years, including K-pop, food, aesthetics and film. She mentioned the most recent feat, director Bong Joon-ho winning the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival with “Parasite.”
“I’m sure it (the Paris Korea Center) will do a lot to make French people be more aware of Korean culture and increase the cultural exchange and relationship between the two countries,” she said.
Director John stated that the role of his institute is even greater than before as a hub and outpost for spreading Korean culture in Europe, leading cooperation among three government bodies located in the Paris Korea Center.
One such important program is “Taste Korea,” another annual event that centers on Korean cuisine. The theme for next year’s event is palaces, which opens the door for vast opportunities as palace dishes play a prominent role in Korean traditional food culture.
With 2020 marking the 40th anniversary of the Korean Cultural Center, several events were planned including a DMZ photo exhibition, a palace exhibition, an exhibition of works by young Korean artists, a public contest for Korean-themed works by French and Korean artists, and a Hangeul exhibition in November.
Visitors to the center can experience Korean culture through the semipermanent display on the building’s first floor. This includes a reconstructed interior of a Korean traditional building, Hangeul-inspired displays and games, and videos showcasing K-pop and K-drama.
Korean cooking classes will be offered in the Korean cuisine zone on the sixth floor, and director John said this was one of the most popular elements of Korean culture. With the space having just quadrupled in size, many other events and classes will be held at the center.
Participants in the opening ceremony for the Paris Korea Center look around the special exhibition “Tekkal, Couleurs de Coree” on Wednesday. (Ministry of Sports, Culture and Tourism)
The inaugural exhibition “Tekkal, Couleurs de Coree” displays the central colors of Korean culture and how they have been used in paintings, furniture, clothing and other objects. The exhibition will run until Feb. 14.
Paris has long been home to numerous Korean artists, many of whom made an appearance at the ceremony on Wednesday and expressed high hopes for the Paris Korea Center.
One such artist was Paris-based “artist of light” Bang Hai-ja, who said she was “proud and thankful” for such a great display of the power of Korean culture.
“I wish (the center) would show more of Korea’s unique art and traditional art, so that our 5,000-year history would shine here,” Bang said.
By Yoon Min-sik (firstname.lastname@example.org
Korea Herald Correspondent