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Renovated Korean Cultural Center Aims to Serve as Bridge Between East and West

By Chiara Vercellone

Everyone has a place that holds a special place in their hearts — a place that brings them comfort, joy and allows them to create new memories every time they visit. For many Koreans in the D.C. metro area, this special place has become the newly restored Korean Cultural Center (KCC).

After its closure in mid-March, the KCC, located down the street from the Embassy of South Korea, celebrated its grand reopening on Sept. 4. The new space hosted a reception with Korean food and drinks, as well as a performance by Korean-born musician and composer Joe Kye.

One of the main goals of the renovation was to create lit and shadowed spaces intended “to evoke the experience of moving through a traditional Korean hanok,” according to the KCC. A hanok is a traditional single-story Korean house, first designed and built in the 14th century, whose architecture considers the positioning of the house in relation to its surroundings, with thought given to the land and seasons.

However, the KCC also wanted to start building a new community – not one that only Koreans could relate to and feel at home in, but a place where people from all over the world could visit and enjoy each other’s company.

South Korean Ambassador Cho Yoon-je, third from left, helps to unveil the newly renovated Korean Cultural Center.(Photo: Embassy of the Republic of Korea)

“I am glad that this event [and the new space] are able to bring so many people from different backgrounds together and will continue to do so in the future,” said South Korean Ambassador Cho Yoon-je as he welcomed guests to the inauguration.

OBRA Architects was responsible for creating the welcoming atmosphere of the renovated cultural center.

OBRA strived to design a space where the D.C. community and the Korean community could come together in harmony.

Jennifer Lee and Pablo Castro, the two leading architects and designers, said the space was emblematic of bridging the divide between Eastern and Western cultures.

“[The KCC] is an immediate portal, a window to the cultural experience of Koreans that can now be experienced by everybody,” said Lee.

The KCC prides itself on highlighting the connections between Korean and American culture, as well as exploring universal themes such as identity, notions of home and globalization. In fact, it has grown into one of the most active — and unique — embassy cultural arms in town, offering a range of programs from art exhibitions to cinema to concerts.

Joe Kye and percussionist William Catanzaro perform at the reopening of the newly renovated Korean Cultural Center.(Photo: Embassy of the Republic of Korea)

The current exhibition, “Inner Monologue,” runs through Sept. 29 and features more than 30 ceramic sculpture works by Korean artists Ahrong Kim, Gunyoung Kim and Kyungmin Park, who explore the world of internal emotion and thought expressed through a visceral, tactile medium. Each artist immigrated to the United States from Korea in their 20s and was shaped by the experience of communicating in a foreign language. This challenge of translating one’s inner monologue into external messages led to their artistic interest in the human body and facial expressions as psychological indicators.

Previous exhibitions have explored such diverse topics as time and space, as well as urban landscapes and how they are redefining our concept of home (also see “Korean Cultural Center Explores Evolving Nature of Cities” in the July 13 edition of the Diplomatic Pouch).

Beyond exhibitions, the KCC has also hosted events highlighting the K-Pop music phenomenon that has hit the U.S. in recent years and other “Hallyu (Korean Wave)” pop culture trends. For example, over the summer, the center hosted a K-Pop training academy along with a regional round of the 2018 Changwon K-Pop World Festival, a global competition that aims to discover the next generation of K-Pop stars from around the world.

Meanwhile, the KCC’s K-Art Gallery is currently accepting proposals for its 2019 exhibition season, with an eye on artists who are able to showcase the diversity of Korean and Korea-inspired art and bring East and West together.

South Korean Ambassador Cho Yoon-je, right, joins former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert at the reopening of the newly renovated Korean Cultural Center.(Photo: Embassy of the Republic of Korea)

In addition, from Sept. 25 to 27, the Kennedy Center hosts the Third Annual Korean Culture Week, a musical journey through Korean sound and style, from the traditional to the cutting-edge. The three-day event highlights how folk roots intersect with the dynamic energy of popular culture while Western classics are infused with innovative twists, all through a range of live performances each night.

The new design of the center carefully incorporates light and a clean, sharp design to highlight the visual art on display. Guests admired the design, as well as the warm ambience it created.

Joe Kye and William Catanzaro, the percussionist who accompanied Kye during the performance, thought of the building as a sanctuary to go to when one is feeling homesick, sad or simply wants to explore a new place in the city.

Among the various exhibitions hosted at the Korean Cultural Center was “City, Unfamiliar Landscape,” which featured works such as Kyung Kwon’s “An Open House,” made of paper college and ink.(Photo: Embassy of the Republic of Korea)

“This is a place to talk about culture, a place where we can dream and create a new identity,” said Kye.

Kye said he felt a spiritual connection to the center because it reminded him of home and his family, who live in South Korea.

“It’s hard [to go on with life] when linguistically, culturally and let alone geographically there is so much distance between us,” he said.

Kye hopes that future events at the KCC will help to create a world free of stereotypes and judgment, along with providing a comforting haven for those who are far away from their own homes.

The Korean Cultural Center, located at 2370 Massachusetts Ave., NW, is open on weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon and 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. More information about upcoming events can be found at www.KoreaCultureDC.org.

Chiara Vercellone is an editorial intern for The Washington Diplomat.




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