Holland’s Greenbox Museum brings Saudi art to northern Europe

Aarnout Helb is an unlikely connector to Saudi Arabia’s art scene. Today, at 58 years old, he’s a bit of an introvert, mostly working alone around his space. (AN photo by Jasmine Bager)
Aarnout Helb is an unlikely connector to Saudi Arabia’s art scene. Today, at 58 years old, he’s a bit of an introvert, mostly working alone around his space. (AN photo by Jasmine Bager)
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Updated 10 September 2022

Holland’s Greenbox Museum brings Saudi art to northern Europe

Holland’s Greenbox Museum brings Saudi art to northern Europe
  • The story of the yellow cow sparked Aarnout Helb’s fascination with the Kingdom’s style

AMSTERDAM: It all started with a yellow cow and a leap of faith.

In 2008, Aarnout Helb, a young Dutch lawyer who studied at Leiden University, was reading the Holy Qur’an while trying to piece together a larger global narrative from a legal and artistic perspective.

While poring over the various passages in the holy book, he came across the story of the yellow cow from Surat Al-Baqarah.

It ignited something within him. After a quick internet search, a piece of art by a Saudi artist popped up — about that very same yellow cow mentioned in the Qur’an. He couldn’t believe his luck. He sent a message to the artist right away.




Last year, Aarnout Helb moved his museum to a remote location in Hoofddorp, where he took his own time unwrapping each piece and putting it in its new place — something he realized was a blessing. It’s hard to gauge how many pieces he has in the collection, because some are part of a series, but he estimates that he has over 100 works. (AN photos by Jasmine Bager)

The artist wrote back. And that was how Helb serendipitously started his long relationship with Saudi artists which resulted in him creating the Greenbox Museum of Contemporary Art from Saudi Arabia in Holland.

The artist who made the Yellow Cow piece was none other than world-renowned Saudi artist Dr. Ahmed Mater, who has since become his friend. Today, the book by Mater — with the yellow cow on the cover — sits proudly on the main table upon entering the museum space. Pieces from the yellow cow project have been acquired by Helb — and then some.

BACKGROUND

• In 2008, Aarnout Helb, a young Dutch lawyer who studied at Leiden University, was reading the Holy Qur’an while trying to piece together a larger global narrative from a legal and artistic perspective. While poring over the various passages in the holy book, he came across the story of the yellow cow from Surat Al- Baqarah.

• It ignited something within him. After a quick internet search, a piece of art by a Saudi artist popped up — about that very same yellow cow mentioned in the Qur’an. He couldn’t believe his luck. He sent a message to the artist right away.

• The artist wrote back. And that was how Helb serendipitously started his long relationship with Saudi artists which resulted in him creating the Greenbox Museum of Contemporary Art from Saudi Arabia in Holland.

Helb is an unlikely connector to Saudi Arabia’s art scene. Today, at 58 years old, he’s a bit of an introvert, mostly working alone around his space, which he likes to refer to as his “cabinet of curiosities.”

He started to piece together the collection based on what captivated his imagination and fascinated his sensibilities.




Aarnout Helb is an unlikely connector to Saudi Arabia’s art scene. (AN photo by Jasmine Bager)

After the constant misrepresentation in the news following the tragic events of 9/11, where several of the hijackers were Saudi-born, Helb kept that fascination tucked away until 2008 when he started to really see a shift in the world.

He refers to that time as a global “mental prison,” where Islam and the West seemingly couldn’t cooperate and he wanted to try and get to the bottom of things.

“I started this in a very complex way — it’s always difficult to explain, but it was influenced very much by 9/11. And the period after that, because I didn’t start right away. I started in 2008, which is much, much later but the world was in some kind of mental prison after that.

“You know, these ideas that Islam and the West — or whatever you call it — can’t work together. And to my mind, it made no sense for Holland within the NATO structure as friends of the US to try and reorganize Afghanistan into our vision of how a country should work,” he told Arab News.




Aarnout Helb is an unlikely connector to Saudi Arabia’s art scene. (AN photo by Jasmine Bager)

“My knowledge about Saudi Arabia prior to this museum was very much influenced by the fact that I have Indonesian roots, and Indonesia is one of the largest Islamic countries in terms of population. And there has always been a very strong relationship between Holland from its Indonesian colonizing context — specifically the Hijaz region because of Makkah and Madinah — so we’ve been involved with making money and taking care of pilgrims at the same time,” he said.

“Saudi Arabia culturally is extremely important for the world — not because you have oil in Dhahran, not because in Riyadh you have a nice royal family; it’s important because people from all over the world travel to Makkah and Madinah,” Helb said.

His first visit to Saudi Arabia was in 2013 after many years of surrounding himself with the Kingdom’s art.

The reason the trip was delayed was because he was, and is, adamant at remaining independent. Every single piece in the collection was curated carefully and thoughtfully by him and not influenced by anyone else.




Aarnout Helb is an unlikely connector to Saudi Arabia’s art scene. (AN photo by Jasmine Bager)

It’s hard to gauge how many pieces he has in the collection, because some are part of a series, but he estimates that he has over 100 works.

“Although the museum started in dead center Amsterdam, at some point, the space was not big enough for me. It was a rented space and I went looking to buy something within the budget I have, and this is a small warehouse, where the collection — which is not my private collection, I finance it privately — but it’s a public space for people to visit.

“It has statutes about what it should do. And the art, although owned by me, is bought with the statutes in mind. And it’s given into use to the foundation for public viewing and research. I take that seriously.”

According to Helb, three types of visitors typically came through the doors.

“The Dutch visitors come because I’m here; the international visitors who somehow find me and usually have some interest in the Middle East — they don’t come completely out of the blue — which happened more when I was still in the center because that was easy to come; and Saudis actually visiting … those I find most interesting because I learn about the art from them,” he said.

He has been to the kingdom several times since but his home base is in Holland.

Last year, Helb moved his museum to a remote location in Hoofddorp, where he took his own time unwrapping each piece and putting it in its new place — something he realized was a blessing.

Helb is still deciding on the exact shade he wants to paint the museum and isn’t sure if he wants to replicate the old wall’s tint, deliberating over the exact green hue that might grace the walls of the new Greenbox.

Ironically, and perhaps fittingly, the color green in the museum’s name was not chosen as a patriotic nod to the Saudi flag but rather due to a personal connection to Helb, who admired a painting in his home with a green tone which relaxed him.

The new location brought in a slew of unexpected visitors: Taxi drivers with origins in North Africa, many of whom reside on the outskirts of Amsterdam because it is more affordable.

Those Dutch nationals with strong pride in their Arab or Muslim roots usually don’t bike or use local public transport, so they come with their cars, park and just wander in.

The space is just a 15-minute drive from Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, which is a five-hour flight from the closest Saudi city.

To schedule a visit or to find out more about the Saudi artists showcased in the museum, contact Helb via www.greenboxmuseum.com or on Instagram (@greenbox_museum).

 


Best-selling Saudi novel ‘HWJN’ turns into live action

Best-selling Saudi novel ‘HWJN’ turns into live action
Updated 03 December 2022

Best-selling Saudi novel ‘HWJN’ turns into live action

Best-selling Saudi novel ‘HWJN’ turns into live action
  • The idea of adapting the novel has been tickling the ambitious mind of the producer-turned-director Yasir Al-Yasiri after he was gifted the book in 2017 by his friend, Emirati filmmaker Majid Al-Ansari

JEDDAH: A panel discussion was held today in Jeddah during the second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival, titled “Hawjan: From the Novel to the Screen,” to shed light on the journey of transforming the best-selling novel “HWJN” into a movie.

From written words to the screen, the speakers explained the success of the famous fantasy novel and the complexities of transforming it for the big screen.

The book, pronounced Hawjan, was the number one best-selling novel in the history of Saudi Arabia when released in 2013. It is the first book of a series of metaphysical and supernatural novels that depict the results of interacting with the unknown realm of the jinn, which co-exists with the human world.

Translator Yasser Bahjatt, Actress Al Anood Saud, Director Yasir Al-Yasiri, Actress Nour  Khadra, Actor Baraa Alem. (AN photo)

Written by Ibraheem Abbas and translated into English by Yasser Bahjatt, the action-romance story details the interaction of two worlds and the unity of two different species to stop the evil of their worlds from slipping into each other.

It also sheds light on good jinns and shows the world from their perspective, with humans haunting their homes, and shows how some humans are more evil to each other than jinn are to them.

The idea of adapting the novel has been tickling the ambitious mind of the producer-turned-director Yasir Al-Yasiri after he was gifted the book in 2017 by his friend, Emirati filmmaker Majid Al-Ansari.

At first, Al-Yasiri did not take an interest in the book, until his friend insisted he reads it. “I read it overnight and I was actually like: Woah, this is something I want to work on,” said Al-Yasiri in a press release at The Ritz-Carlton Jeddah on Saturday.

He added that he decided to work on it because it “tackles a genre that is rarely addressed in the Arab world” and to “break the norm and bring something fresh.”

The two men immediately started working on the script and started the casting and filming process in 2018 with Al-Ansari as a director and Al-Yasiri as a producer. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic restricted Al-Ansari from coming to Saudi Arabia, leading Al-Yasiri to become the director, and he proceeded with filming.

The story introduces Sawsan, a medical student from the world of humans, and Hawjan, a curious man from the realm of the jinn, which humankind cannot see. The jinn man takes an interest in knowing Sawsan and her family after they move to a new house, where Hawjan and his family have been living for years.

While trying to maintain the boundaries between his life in both worlds, Hawjan discovers that he comes from a royal bloodline and tries to reclaim his right to the throne.

The script, written by both Al-Ansari and Al-Yasiri, ensures that the story has the necessary changes for the screen, but does not drift away from the book.

One of the biggest challenges the crew faced was creating a city that exists in the jinn world —Milaj City, which no human has seen. Al-Yasiri said they had to bear in mind the civilizational scenery of the jinn world, which existed before humans.

Casting the actors was a bit tricky, trying to find characters in the actors rather than actors who could portray them. This led to the casting of the brilliant Saudi actor Baraa Alem as Hawjan, Nour Khadra as Sawsan, Nayef Al-Dhufary as Zanan, and Al-Anood Saud as Jamara.

As the book became a major hit in 2013, the publishing houses were ordered by the religious police to stop selling it 11 months after its release, as it stirred controversy among parents who started complaining that their children were learning black magic, and how to call upon jinn.

One month later, the book was back on shelves after the editors, and the reviewing committee, made sure it was clear of the claims.

A teaser trailer was released earlier today by Vox Cinema, giving a glimpse into the world created by Al-Yasiri. Produced by Image Nation, MBC, and Vox Cinema, the movie will be out in 2023.

 


Asir governor, ministers attend Aseer Investment Forum launch

Asir governor, ministers attend Aseer Investment Forum launch
Updated 03 December 2022

Asir governor, ministers attend Aseer Investment Forum launch

Asir governor, ministers attend Aseer Investment Forum launch
  • The forum seeks to achieve the national strategic investment goals by attracting investments to the promising sectors, namely tourism, agriculture and sports

ABHA: Asir Gov. Prince Turki bin Talal bin Abdulaziz, who also heads the region’s development authority, sponsored the launch of the Aseer Investment Forum at King Khalid University in Al-Qaraa on Saturday.

The ceremony saw the participation of Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih and Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb, along with  Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization Zurab Pololikashvili.

In his opening speech, Prince Turki said: “The Asir region is of great interest to the wise leadership and benefits from its continuous support to promote all of the developmental projects and underline its strong points and uniqueness in all its fields. The forum was held after the region’s infrastructural development was completed and the economic studies, which will provide accurate information regarding the investment opportunities, were conducted.

“The forum seeks to achieve the national strategic investment goals by attracting investments to the promising sectors, namely tourism, agriculture and sports. These sectors would, in their turn, contribute to the achievement of the objectives of Asir’s development strategy, stimulate local and foreign direct investments and turn the region into a global tourist destination all year round, while also expanding the investment radius to cover all of the region’s provinces, characterized by the diversity of their environments,” he added.

Al-Khateeb stressed the leadership’s keenness to develop the Kingdom’s tourism sector, utilize the attraction elements and benefit from available opportunities by raising the sector’s contribution to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product from 3 to 10 percent. “The launch of Asir’s strategy has helped the ministry implement several of its initiatives and projects, which are aimed at developing the tourism sector as well as locally and internationally promoting the region’s tourism sector,” he said.

“The Kingdom has allocated SR450 million ($119.7 million) to train 100,000 young Saudi men and women with the aim of providing tourism facilities with trained employees. More than 70,000 young men and women have received the necessary training, including 7,000 who were sent abroad to be trained according to international standards,” he added.

Al-Falih said that “the ministry is working to support economic projects in Asir and encourage businessmen to establish services and tourism projects in order to develop the region and stimulate investments through the privatization and partnership system in place between the private and public sectors.

“The ministry is also keen to receive suggestions, listen to the investors and work on resolving all the difficulties they might face,” he added, lauding Asir’s strategy for “what it has achieved in terms of establishing an investor-attracting environment, inviting the investors and providing them with all the information and data that would help them set the region’s investment compass.”

Pololikashvili commended the Kingdom for “the qualitative leaps it has achieved when it comes to tourism, developing tourist destinations and facilitating the required procedures to visit the country,” recognizing how rich Saudi Arabia’s various regions are “in terms of natural elements and environmental diversity, which support its aim of becoming a global tourist destination.”

 


Super Hero experience tells Boulevard World visitors the story of The Avengers

Visitors can live the details in a 3D simulation, by standing in front of the heroes and taking pictures with them. (Supplied)
Visitors can live the details in a 3D simulation, by standing in front of the heroes and taking pictures with them. (Supplied)
Updated 03 December 2022

Super Hero experience tells Boulevard World visitors the story of The Avengers

Visitors can live the details in a 3D simulation, by standing in front of the heroes and taking pictures with them. (Supplied)
  • The Super Hero experience includes the old TV room, which contains a TV set with distorted frequencies, to enhance the feeling of fear and tension among the participants in the experiment

RIYADH: The Super Hero experience takes visitors of Boulevard World, one of the 15 entertainment zones of Riyadh Season, on a training trip to Marvel World with the SHIELD team, accompanied by Stan Lee, who tells the story of the Avengers and how to use the team’s weapons in a digital experience that turns visitors into distinguished heroes.

The experience takes visitors to the shooting wall, where they learn to use the weapons of their superheroes and choose the appropriate items for each stage. Through the training area, visitors also have option to solve puzzles, search for missing data, and impersonate heroes to measure their physical capabilities.

Through the experience, visitors can live the details in a 3D simulation, by standing in front of the heroes and taking pictures with them in a form closer to reality than imagination. Visitors can also have fun in the Marvel World, the Hall of Superheroes, the Draw Your Hero activity, and the augmented reality mirror.

HIGHLIGHT

The experience takes visitors to the shooting wall, where they learn to use the weapons of their superheroes and choose the appropriate items for each stage. Through the training area, visitors also have option to solve puzzles, search for missing data, and impersonate heroes to measure their physical capabilities.

The Super Hero experience includes the old TV room, which contains a TV set with distorted frequencies, to enhance the feeling of fear and tension among the participants in the experiment. It also has a street room where people are chased by zombies.

The zone allows visitors to shop in the Super Hero store, which includes a huge assortment of Marvel, DC and Comic-Con products, including collectibles and costumes.

Tickets can be booked via the link: https://ticketmx.riyadhseason.sa/en/d/2430/boulevard-world

Boulevard World is at the heart of the third Riyadh Season. It includes the 10 culturally-oriented subzones from all over the world, featuring customs and lifestyles, folklore, dances, and prominent aspects of design and construction.

Visitors can learn about the cultures of China, Italy, France, India, Morocco, Spain, America, Japan, Greece and Mexico.

For both families and individuals, Boulevard World is a premier entertainment destination, featuring a host of experiences, including rides in hot air balloons, submarines and boats.

It has the largest man-made lake in the world, where boats can travel between cities through 11 stations. It also offers the Area 15 experience from Las Vegas; The Sphere, the biggest spherical theater in the world; a city for gaming fans; comic book and anime-themed activities; and plenty of family-friendly entertainment options.

Visitors can enjoy a ride in a Venetian gondola, taste American cuisine, shop for the best Spanish products and watch flamenco shows.

 


Virtual Reality Zone hits center stage at Red Sea International Film Festival

The VR scene in Saudi Arabia is still predominantly a medium for the young. (Supplied)
The VR scene in Saudi Arabia is still predominantly a medium for the young. (Supplied)
Updated 03 December 2022

Virtual Reality Zone hits center stage at Red Sea International Film Festival

The VR scene in Saudi Arabia is still predominantly a medium for the young. (Supplied)
  • Liz Rosenthal told Arab News: “Virtual reality is many different things. One project is entirely different from another
  • The projects range from video games to stories and art galleries

JEDDAH: The Virtual Reality Zone came into its own at the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah on Saturday, showcasing 10 different projects, six of which were directed by women, ranging from video games to stories and art galleries.

Liz Rosenthal, the curator of the zone, said that in terms of telling stories, the VR medium “is in a league of its own.”

She told Arab News: “Virtual reality is many different things. One project is entirely different from another.

“Unlike movies, where you know that it has a beginning, middle, and an end on a flat screen, in VR you may be doing something with one person, two, or 100.”

The curator is seeking to show what is possible within the VR world. The projects were chosen with the Saudi audience in mind.

She added: “We make sure that we have something for everyone, so there are things for younger people, families and people who have different tastes.”

The VR scene in Saudi Arabia is still predominantly a medium for the young.

Rosenthal said: “Even in countries like the UK, in the European region, (even in) the biggest companies, it is still too young.

“Ithra in Saudi Arabia started a year-and-a-half ago and they have made their projects, so that’s really great to see that Saudi is trying to appear on the map for VR products.”

Rosenthal added that it is important to develop further as the VR world needed people with the knowledge and tools to tell stories and create experiences into the future.

She said: “In some ways it is easier to come into a new medium because there is less of a structure stopping people, compared to something that has been going on for years like the cinema.

“It is difficult to break in, but here people are so much more welcoming.

“Another thing you need to understand is that it is real time; you are interacting with things that are around you.

“You need a lot of skills to create a good experience. Being just one thing is not enough: you need to be a good artist, a good architect, and much more.”

A recent development has been a gaming project called “Eggscape,” a multiplayer game. It allows the player to see through the lens of a VR headset and into their own surroundings. The game then projects characters and the player interacts.

Rosenthal said the game shows the future potential of VR, and the direction in which the medium is going.

 


Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Souk welcomes storytellers

Twitter (@RedSeaFilm)
Twitter (@RedSeaFilm)
Updated 04 December 2022

Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Souk welcomes storytellers

Twitter (@RedSeaFilm)
  • Event offers creatives, professionals chance to create business opportunities
  • It is part of the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah

JEDDAH: The Red Sea Souk returned for the second Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah on Saturday.
The four-day souk will be packed with pitching sessions, meetings, screenings, industry talks and networking events.
Last year’s souk had more than 3,500 accredited industry professionals and organizers, with executives from 46 countries. This year is expected to have an even bigger number of people making it happen.
Zain Zedan, souk manager at the festival, said: “I’ve been working with the RSIFF since 2019. It has been a great pleasure to see the growth of the festival over the years, and where it’s leading, and the number of great films we’re having year by year, and the projects we’re supporting and funding.”
In the souk’s exhibitors’ area, the number of companies has more than doubled since last year, from 19 to 43 from nine countries.
“We’re always trying to expand and bring an international presence … whether it’s from Africa, Arab regions or Europe,” said Zedan.
“Since it’s an international festival, we’re always trying to welcome everyone and show them the abundance of potential we have in the region.”
Referring to a challenge earlier this year whereby people created short films in 48 hours, Zedan said: “They produced them in such a short time and the results were amazing. Two of the films were selected to be part of the RSIFF. So we’re supporting people in different ways, any way we can.”