The exact opposite of Korea on the globe lies in South America, somewhere around Uruguay. Central and South America are the regions farthest from Korea, and the cultural distance between Latin America and Korea is equally great. The Latin American Cultural Center, or Centro Cultural de América Latina, in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, brings the culture of Central and South America closer to the Korean public, many of whom might still be unfamiliar with it. The center was founded in 1994 by Lee Bok-hyung, a former Korean ambassador to Mexico, who served as a diplomat in Latin America for over three decades. It aims to introduce relics and artifacts he collected during his career and is the largest Latin America-themed cultural center in all of Asia.
The cultural center’s museum, gallery, and capilla (chapel) present a panoramic view of Latin America from the vestiges of ancient civilization to contemporary life and the arts. Not even a daylong visit would suffice for viewers to fully appreciate all the exhibits on display, from earthenware and farming tools from the distant past and masks symbolizing Mexican natives to furniture, musical instruments, and art works that are distinctively Latin American. While entrance to the museum and gallery are currently discouraged due to social distancing regulations to curb the spread of COVID-19, visitors are welcome to walk around the outdoor park where sculptures from 16 Central and South American countries stand in wonderful harmony with the surrounding green trees.
If you walk slowly, closely taking in the sculptures in the pond, relief sculptures on jars, and the many other eye-catching works, you will finally arrive at a huge wall, deep in the park. From afar, the 5-meter-high, 23-meter-wide Maya ceramic mural stands out for its overwhelming size, but step up close and you can admire its detailed, delicate patterns. The intricate imagery features solar deities and other ancient gods, mythological animals, relicts excavated from Aztec pyramids, and Mayan glyphs.
After a prolonged period of colonial rule and the subsequent dictatorship, Mexico revolutionized itself and has since campaigned for Indigenismo, an ideology aimed at solidifying national identity on the basis of the indigenous cultures of the native peoples that built the splendid Maya and Aztec civilizations. In the field of art, Indigenismo developed into the Mexican mural movement, and the mural at the Latin American Cultural Center, too, is full of symbols characterizing Maya and Aztec civilizations. The patterns and structures may have come from a faraway country, but the spirit of the mural and its wishes for social integration offers a sympathetic story to Koreans who share a similar history through pre-modern and modern times.
Written by Kim Moonyoung
Illustrated by EEWHA