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Marking complete return, Kim Keon Hee hosts luncheon for African first ladies

Pansori sung in Korean, French at Cheong Wa Dae event

June 4, 2024 - 16:33 By Jung Min-kyung
Photos of the four-course menu offered during a luncheon for a group of first ladies from 16 African nations hosted by South Korean first lady Kim Keon Hee and the presidential office at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

South Korean first lady Kim Keon Hee hosted a luncheon for a group of first ladies from 16 African nations visiting to participate in the first-ever Korea-Africa Summit on Tuesday, marking a full return to public engagement after nearly six months of her absence from the public eye.

The luncheon was held at Sangchunjae, a traditional Korean-style house located within the perimeters of the former presidential residence of Cheong Wa Dae in central Seoul.

Kim, who was in charge of hosting the luncheon, chose unity between Korea and Africa as the theme of Tuesday’s event. “First lady Kim Keon Hee has spent several months selecting the details of the performance and the menu of the luncheon to showcase the traditional Korean culture to the first ladies of Africa,” the presidential office said.

The venue was decorated with a mixture of flowers that grow in Korea and Africa to show the harmony between Asia’s fourth-largest economy and the resource-rich continent.

As guests entered the venue, they were greeted by a 10-minute performance involving a harmony of the gayageum, a traditional Korean string instrument, and the cello.

The main performance was pansori, a traditional Korean lyrical opera, sung both in Korean and French by Min Hye-sung, a certified trainer and artist of pansori, Min’s Cameroon-born apprentice French pansori singer Laure Mafo and certified pansori trainee Choi Hyun-dong. They sang parts of "Chunhyangga," a famous pansori folktale.

That was followed by a demonstrative art performance by Seok Chang-woo, who lost both his arms in an accident and uses his entire body to paint. Seok, who is renowned for his ink croquis, used black, red, green, yellow and blue hues to incorporate the shades of Africa in a drawing that showed several cyclists heading in the same direction. The painting represents the hope that Korea and Africa would cooperate in “heading toward a brighter future,” according to a presidential office official.

The luncheon was a four-course meal, with halal, vegan and lactose-free options. It included gungjung tteokbokki, the traditional soy-sauce flavored version of the white rice cakes, beef and a variety of dried and raw vegetables.

To cater to Muslim guests, the presidential office also prepared a prayer room with a carpet, clock and compass.

Kim returned to public duties last month amid accusations that she violated the country's antigraft law by accepting a luxury Christian Dior handbag from a Korean American pastor in 2022. The pastor filmed the exchange with a hidden camera and shared it via YouTube media outlet Voice of Seoul last year.

Kim had been absent from the public eye since December last year, when she returned with Yoon from his state visit to the Netherlands