From shopkeeper to cultural ambassador

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From shopkeeper to cultural ambassador

An Italian woman's year-long effort to bring Korean culture to her city is beginning to pay off. By forming connections from the small network of Koreans she had known, Barbara Nadeo, a native of Turin in northern Italy, organized the the Association of Italian and Korean Cultures (, with the approval and support of her state government. The association's aim is to promote the cultures, tourism and sports of the two countries. Its first event will be an exhibit of Korean photography, which will be held in Turin from Nov. 12 through Nov. 19 and is jointly organized with an Italian publishing company specializing in Asian books, O barr O. Turin, with a population of nearly 1 million, is a growing city, and will host the Winter Olympics in 2006. The exhibit will show some 40 works by three Korean photojournalists: Lee Jung-se of the Munhwa Daily Newspaper and Kwon Tae-kyung and Choi Jae-young of the JoongAng Ilbo. Ms. Nadeo visited Seoul last week to promote her project and spoke with the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition:

How did you discover Korea and its culture?

Growing up, I saw what my parents brought from their trips to China and India. Later I got into an Asian arts and language program. In 1999, I opened a shop specializing in Asian artifacts. I got everything from celadon, chests, and scroll paintings from India, China, Japan and Korea. Many Europeans are familiar with Japanese or Chinese culture, but few know about Korean arts. I wanted to study the Korean language to know the culture better, but there was hardly anything on it in Italian. I had to use materials written in English or French. Then I found the Italian publishing company O barra O. It is now also contacting its partners in Korea to promote lesser-known writers here.

Are you getting any help from local Korean-Italians?

There are only a few Koreans living in Turin. Three Koreans in Italy have helped me, two women married to Italians and one student studying handicraft. For the project, I need people interested in promoting cultural exchanges, people interested in new cultures. I was glad to meet a photojournalist, Lee Jung-se, during the Cannes Film Festival last year, where I watched "Chunhyangjeon" by Im Kwon-taek. He introduced me to other Koreans.

What do you suppose Italians will get from the Korean photo exhibition?

I thought photography would be interesting to Italians because it shows clear images and provokes curiosity. Like a name card, photography makes a good first impression. I'd like to show images from various fields of Korean culture. I'd like to show the past and present, as they can reflect traditional culture. I want to show pictures of Korean foods and restaurants. Italians now have a very bad image of Korea, especially from the World Cup. Italian television stations broadcast that Koreans eat puppies sold in pet shops. It's not right or fair at all.

Learn about a culture and speak the language and biases disappear. There are Korean language courses offered in Naples and Venice universities. I'm trying to set up Korean language courses in my area.

How did you spend your time in Korea?

This is my second visit. I bought a Korean dictionary and a grammar book, which I can't get in Turin. I've been going around, visiting ancient tombs.

by Inēs Cho

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