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(Yonhap Feature) Photo exhibition lights up 1,300 yrs of S. Korea-Iran tie

All Headlines 09:00 October 04, 2016

By Chung Joo-won

SEOUL, Oct. 4 (Yonhap) -- The diplomatic relationship between S. Korea and Iran officially launched in 1962, but historians point out that the two nations' special relations trace back to as far as some 1,300 years ago.

The Iranian folktale of Kush-Nama unravels the story of a Persian prince who married a princess from the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C.-A.D. 935), which partly inspired the South Korea-Iran photo exhibition that runs from Sept. 28 through Oct. 23.

A visitor looks at a photo wall that is part of "Korea and Iran, Special Relations over 1,300 Years," a special photo exhibition co-hosted by Yonhap News Agency (YNA) and its Iranian counterpart Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), in central Seoul on Sept. 29, 2016. (Yonhap)

Visitors of various nationalities and age groups freely stopped by "Korea and Iran, Special Relations over 1,300 Years," set up in the open facade of the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History in Gwanghwamun, the heart of the South Korean capital. Among the local visitors were those who worked in Iran in the 1970s, the salt of the earth who contributed to the fast growth of the South Korean economy in the wake of the Korean War (1950-1953).

"Iranian culture is quite different from ours, but I completely fell in love with it -- Iranians are warm-hearted and genuine in offering favors," said 82-year-old Park Joon-gun, a retiree of a now-closed state-run communications service operator.

"One day, I was riding on a double-decker bus in Iran when I saw a middle-aged lady get on. Then a group of young men literally sprang up and offered their seats in unison. When the lady picked a seat and sat down, the lad who originally claimed that seat seemed so flattered that his favor was accepted," he reminisced.

Archived photos are displayed in the special photo exhibition in central Seoul on Sept. 29, 2016. (Yonhap)

Park's company entered Iran in 1972 to set up some 650 communication offices, to become one of the first South Korean companies to offer infrastructure development on Iranian soil. From 1973, more South Korean businesses, particularly constructors and oil traders, surged to the Middle Eastern country, thanks to the success of the firstcomers.

After a relative crisis in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War, the cooperative ties between South Korea and Iran have grown fast to encompass history, politics, economics and culture.

The outdoor exhibition displays some 140 photos, many of which were provided by the event's co-hosts Yonhap News Agency and its Iranian counterpart Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), under the theme of lasting friendship between the two countries. The exhibition is divided into four sections, including traditional culture, diplomatic, socio-political and media cooperation, contemporary culture and sports exchange, and future-oriented inclusion. The exhibition is also held in the Iranian capital in a similar format.

Visitors roamed the exhibition, enchanted by the photos of Iranian woman peeling saffron, Islamic shrine of Hazrat Masoumeh, Iranian general election and South Korean emergency rescue team dispatched to Iran.

Dignitaries from Korea and Iran attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony of a special photo exhibition that celebrates the long-standing friendship between South Korea and Iran at the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History in Seoul on Sept. 28, 2016. (Yonhap)

"The exhibition underscores the recovery of the bilateral relationship that precipitated from President Park Geun-hye's visit to Iran in May," said Yonhap President Park No-hwang in the opening ceremony of the special photo exhibition. He hoped that the culture event will help Koreans enhance their understanding of Iran and invigorate exchanges in diplomatic, economic, cultural and media sectors.

South Korean Culture Minister Cho Yoon-sun, a dignitary of the opening event, also expressed high hopes for thriving contemporary and future cultural exchanges between South Korea and Iran.

"The photo exhibition presents the natural beauty of the Iranian landscape and mountainous villages, as well as South Korean medalist who triumphed in women's taekwondo in the Rio Olympic Games," the minister said. She hoped that the two countries will continue to improve their ties, as seen in the model case of Tehran road in the posh southern district of Gangnam in Seoul, which became a popular hangout among young Korean people.

Yonhap President Park No-hwang makes a speech at the opening ceremony of a special photo exhibition that celebrates the long-standing friendship between South Korea and Iran at the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History in Seoul on Sept. 28, 2016. (Yonhap)

Among the most popular parts of the exhibition was the sports and popular culture section. From the 1970s to the early 2000s, construction, heavy industries and infrastructure deals were the mainstream South Korean businesses in Iran. In the past decade, Korean pop culture content has become a new growth engine.

The exhibition displayed some photos of lead actors of hit South Korean television series "Jumong," broadcast here from May 2006 to March 2007. Starring actor Song Il-gook and actress Han Hye-jin, the 81-episode Monday-Tuesday series rated a stunning 85 percent audience rating in Iran. The drama's success also elevated the two actors as "hallyu stars," or South Korean celebrities with a large global following.

"When people told me that the viewership topped 80 percent, I initially thought they couldn't be serious. But after I visited Tehran, I realized how much the Iranian audience loved the show," said Song, as he attended the opening ceremony.

He added, "Many people say the Iranian market could have become the blue ocean of hallyu sooner, had it not been for the (international) sanctions. (Now that the sanction is lifted,) I hope its smooth sailing."

Another MBC's historical series "Jewel in the Palace," more commonly known by its Korean title "Daejanggeum," has also raked in success in Iran.

Iranian Ambassador to South Korea Hassan Taherian (C) presents plaques of appreciation to South Korean actress Han Hye-jin and actor Song Il-gook in recognition of their contribution to the development of bilateral ties. The awarding ceremony took place on the opening night of the special photo exhibition at the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History in Seoul on Sept. 28, 2016. (Yonhap)

South Korean exporters were fast to take marketing advantage of the Iranian fever for Korean content.

South Korean tech giant LG Electronics rode high as it dubbed Song the model for its television and audio television products in 2009. As of the end of 2014, color television boasted an annual export volume of $397 million, or the second largest among South Korean export items to Iran, according to data provided by the Korea International Trade Association.

With the goldmines of "Jumong" and "Daejanggeum," South Korean cultural marketers are expecting a considerable expansion of South Korean cultural content products in the Islamic country. Marketers pick historical and family dramas as the two genres with the highest market potential in Iran.

Iran's acceptance of hallyu has become a welcome rain for cultural exporters here, amid South Korea's growing diplomatic tensions with China and Japan.

South Korea's entertainment business has been affected by the recent spat over Seoul's decision to deploy an anti-missile defense system on the Korean Peninsula.

In July, South Korea decided to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) to better defend the country from North Korea's ever-growing military threats. China argues the move undermines regional peace and security as it increases the U.S.' military clout on the Korean Peninsula.

The Japanese market has become largely unpredictable for South Korean entertainment and cultural marketers, as the two countries' diplomatic ups and downs largely swayed the market acceptance of Korean products.

Photos of South Korean actors of hit historical television series "Jumong" are displayed in the photo exhibition in central Seoul on Sept. 29, 2016. (Yonhap)
A group of Japanese visitors enters the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History in central Seoul on Sept. 29, 2016. (Yonhap)
Visitors look at photos on display at a special photo exhibition that marks the long-standing friendship between South Korea and Iran at the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History in Seoul on Sept. 28, 2016. (Yonhap)

jwc@yna.co.kr
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