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(Yonhap Interview) Kim Ran, the Korean 'art diplomat' in Argentina

All Headlines 16:05 August 26, 2016

By Woo Jae-yeon

JEJU ISLAND, South Korea, Aug. 26 (Yonhap) -- Kim Ran left Korea for Argentina 30 years ago in what was meant to be a brief stay of a few months. The journey, however, took on a life of its own and gave her a second life in the country, a day's flight away from her homeland.

Having run a gallery and art institute, she co-founded Museo Kim Yun Shin in the capital city of Buenos Aires in 2008 with her professor and well-known artist Kim Yun-shin.

In an interview with Yonhap News Agency on the sidelines of the 16th Korean Women's International Network (KOWIN) that wrapped up its three-day event on Friday on the southern resort island of Jeju, director Kim said there has been a sea of change in the perception and image harbored by Argentines of Korea in the last few decades.

"Few knew Korea. They only asked if I was Chinese or Japanese," she said of the time when had she just settled in the country. "Now, things have changed to a point where I feel overwhelmed by a flurry of inquiries from local artists about the possibility to open an exhibition in Korea.

"Korea's raised profile in the international community and its economic power made me confident in whatever I do in this foreign country."

Majoring in sculpture at Sungshin Women's University in Seoul, she abruptly left her hometown when she was 28 amid the emotional shock and devastation over her father's sudden death. Her acquaintance in Argentina, a relative of artist Kim, helped her with the documents. In the 1980s when the South American nation was experiencing the political upheaval of turning into a democracy from a military dictatorship, she was able to receive permanent residency much easier than expected.

"I thought to myself at that time, 'Is living in Argentina my destiny?" she recalled.

In 2004, she and a few other Korean women started the Argentina branch of KOWIN and she has assumed the role of regional head since 2013.

"Before Argentina had the Korean Cultural Center, KOWIN played the central role in spreading Korean culture," she said. "Now we shifted our focus more on education for the third generation of Korean immigrants."

From this year, the Argentina office of KOWIN holds quarterly seminars for immigrants on issues such as education, drugs, social media and local laws.

Besides her roles of strengthening the local network of Korean women, she spends her energy promoting the work of artist Kim and, by extension, Korean art and culture. Also she's regularly holds Kim's exhibitions in Korea. Earlier this year, her museum donated 10 pieces of Kim's artwork to the Seoul Museum of Art.

Kim Yun-shin, now 81, has lived in Argentina for more than three decades. Having originally planned to stay for one year, the sculptor and painter became absolutely fascinated with local wood materials unique to the South American country and eventually left Korea for good to continue working with them.

"The longer I work with KOWIN, the thought grows stronger that the power of women leads the world," director Kim said. "I will try to do my share of improving Korean women's standing in Argentina while pursuing better relations between us and the locals."

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr
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