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).

 


Saudi Hajj and Umrah Ministry showcases latest services at LEAP

Saudi Hajj and Umrah Ministry showcases latest services at LEAP
Updated 42 min 17 sec ago

Saudi Hajj and Umrah Ministry showcases latest services at LEAP

Saudi Hajj and Umrah Ministry showcases latest services at LEAP
  • Digital measures to ease travel for visitors, pilgrims Visas allow touring of Kingdom’s cultural, spiritual sites

JEDDAH: The Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah is showcasing its latest services for pilgrims at the LEAP 2023 conference in Riyadh.

This is the second time the ministry is participating in the tech conference, which has been organized by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology in collaboration with the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programing, and Drones at the Riyadh Front Exhibition and Conference Center.

The four-day conference will conclude on Thursday.

According to the Hajj and Umrah Ministry, several initiatives have been introduced to ensure pilgrims can have a safe, secure and spiritually fulfilling journey to Makkah and Madinah.

The ministry’s pavilion at LEAP is displaying a number of digital solutions, which visitors can access via an interactive screen.

The ministry recently announced new measures that would allow visitors, with any type of visa, to perform Umrah, with no age restrictions, or the need for female worshippers to have a male guardian.

About 10 days ago, the Kingdom’s Foreign Ministry launched an electronic service that would allow passengers stopping over in the Kingdom to obtain entry visas. This would allow people to perform Umrah, visit the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, and tour the country.

The Hajj and Umrah Ministry said the Umrah visa’s validity has been extended from 30 days to 90 days, allowing holders to visit the Kingdom’s spiritual and cultural sites.

Speaking at the Hajj Expo 2023 held in Jeddah, Minister of Hajj and Umrah Tawfiq Al-Rabiah had said the number of people participating in this year’s Hajj would return to pre-pandemic levels.
 


Meta announces metaverse academy in partnership with Tuwaiq Academy at LEAP23

Meta announces metaverse academy in partnership with Tuwaiq Academy at LEAP23
Updated 08 February 2023

Meta announces metaverse academy in partnership with Tuwaiq Academy at LEAP23

Meta announces metaverse academy in partnership with Tuwaiq Academy at LEAP23

RIYADH: Meta has announced the launch of the first metaverse academy in the Middle East and North Africa region, in partnership with Tuwaiq Academy and Simplon, a French digital skills provider, at the second edition of LEAP in Riyadh.

Kojo Boakye, vice president of public policy for Meta in Africa, the Middle East, and Turkiye, told Arab News: “We have announced the launch of the first metaverse academy in this region.

“We think [it] will feed exactly into what this region is doing, sparking the development of the metaverse ecosystem, working with creators and developers, the builders of the metaverse, to ensure it comes to fruition.”

The academy will be based in Riyadh and will aim to support the region’s metaverse ecosystem through training programs.

Boakye added: “We have great hopes for the future, and we believe the academy, in partnership with Tuwaiq and Simplon, will help that.”

Faisal Al-Khamisi, chairman of Tuwaiq Academy, said: “We are thrilled to be a part of this groundbreaking initiative with Meta to establish the first metaverse academy in the MENA region.

“This partnership with Meta allows us to continue this mission and support the growth of the metaverse ecosystem by training and empowering the next generation of metaverse builders and leaders.”

The academy will launch a series of programs from May 1 that will equip students with the necessary skills to pursue a career in the growing metaverse.

Boakye said: “There’s a broad range of training, everything from a short course where you can just learn a little bit more about the metaverse, to a mid-level course that takes four to six weeks, to something in-depth where you can be training for eight to nine months to get the qualifications you need to add impacts to the work that’s being done.

“It’s the vision that we’re seeing in the region here in Saudi Arabia. The plan is to have one programmer for every 100 citizens.

“We are utterly convinced [by the project] when you look at the innovation and the ideas that are coming out from this region.

“We believe that this region and the builders here will affect the global spread and broad adoption of the metaverse, and that’s what we are aiming for.”

Boakye said that Meta had already encouraged developers, aspiring developers, and others interested in the metaverse to sign up for the program online.

He added: “If adoption of the metaverse were to grow in a similar way to the use of mobile technology, after 10 years it would contribute $360 billion, or 6.2 percent, to the GDP in the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkiye.”
 


Saudi Vision 2030 transformation dubbed ‘one of the biggest opportunities in the world right now’

Saudi Vision 2030 transformation dubbed ‘one of the biggest opportunities in the world right now’
Updated 08 February 2023

Saudi Vision 2030 transformation dubbed ‘one of the biggest opportunities in the world right now’

Saudi Vision 2030 transformation dubbed ‘one of the biggest opportunities in the world right now’
  • Careem CEO Mudassir Sheikha tells LEAP bringing “the right talent into the market” can solve existing service and other problems
  • Mahindra Satyam CEO Prakash Gurnani says “India’s 1.4 billion population will benefit” if Saudi Arabia becomes a tech role model

 RIYADH: While the digitalization of an economy is key to its technological advancement, it is also a way to ease daily life and provide jobs and opportunities for the young population.

As explored in several sessions at this year’s LEAP conference, this holds particularly true for Saudi Arabia as part of its Vision 2030 reform agenda.

According to the Saudi General Authority for Statistics, 36.7 percent of the Kingdom’s population is aged between 15 and 34. Due to an acceleration of the digital economy’s growth in the Kingdom, more than 1 million jobs are expected to be created by 2025, with a focus on technology and innovation.

“The transformation that is happening on the back of Vision 2030 is probably one of the biggest opportunities in the world right now,” said Mudassir Sheikha, CEO of Careem, during a panel themed Deep Dive: Unicorns of the World.

“I have been coming here for 15 years now and over the last five years you can see the change each month on the ground. The pace of change is incredible, and we know that when such change is generated at the macro level, it creates opportunity.”

In the second quarter of 2022, the unemployment rate for Saudi Arabia fell to 9.7 percent, fueled by government reforms directed at the labor market, according to data provided by GASTAT.

It is reflected by the participation rate of Saudis in the labor market, which grew by 1.7 percentage points to reach 51.8 percent. The employment-to-population ratio of Saudis also grew by the same amount, reaching 46.8 percent compared to the previous year, according to the GASTAT report.

Environmental and digital security are among the fastest growing fields in Saudi Arabia, according to data released on LinkedIn in January 2023.

Still, as Sheikha underlined, there are still many issues related to services and relevant providers that need to be solved. “This provides additional opportunities for the Saudi workforce,” he added. “There are many problems that still need to be solved. How do you solve those problems? You need to bring the right talent into the market.”

There is no shortage of human capital and talent in the Saudi market, he added. “With hard work and the right tools great things can happen. From my perspective, there’s probably no better place to be right now than in Saudi today,” he said.

FASTFACTS

• Saudi Arabia ranked 2nd in G20 digital competitiveness in the 2021 Digital Riser Report by the European Center for Digital Competitiveness.

• The Kingdom has attracted more than $9 billion in investment in future technologies.

• OECD estimates that 1.1 billion jobs will be radically transformed by technology.

The phrase “digital economy” reflects how the technological revolution is transforming value chains in exponential, revolutionary ways — endowing new opportunities for markets worldwide to generate social and economic change.

“There is a worldwide need for reskilling and upskilling. The OECD estimates that over the next decade 1.1 billion jobs will be radically transformed by technology,” said Chip Paucek, co-founder and CEO of 2U, Inc., a leading US provider of software for universities.

“What is happening right now with AI is a good example of this and we are excited about what is happening here in the Kingdom.”

A panel on the main stage of LEAP, titled “Roadmap to Building a ‘DigitALL’ Economy in the Kingdom & Solving the Talent Conundrum,” included a conversation with Chander Prakash Gurnani, CEO of Mahindra Satyam, and British journalist Adam Boulton, with the talks examining how Saudi Arabia is building an inclusive economy through rapid advancements and investment in technology.

“India’s 1.4 billion population will benefit from the Kingdom becoming a role model in technology,” said Gurnani. “The Kingdom is one of our major focus countries. It’s a beautiful opportunity for us to participate and be part of the growth. When you work backwards, you need people, processes, technology and more importantly, an ecosystem of both products and technology.”

The Kingdom has attracted more than $9 billion in investment in future technologies, including by US giants Microsoft and Oracle, which are building cloud regions in Saudi Arabia, Saudi Minister of Communication and Information Technology Abdullah Al-Swaha told Reuters during LEAP on Monday.

Al-Swaha added that China’s Huawei will also invest $400 million in cloud infrastructure for its services in the Kingdom, as well as create another cloud region in partnership with Saudi Aramco.

The Kingdom has also encouraged the use of AI to achieve Vision 2030 and Smart Government Strategy objectives. The plan is expected to result in the Kingdom’s AI market growing to $135.2 billion by 2030, which is estimated to contribute 12.4 percent to gross domestic product.

As most panelists stressed during the sessions at LEAP, while investment in tech is paramount to advancement in technology and economic growth, what is key is training the younger, eager Saudi labor force and readying them with education and opportunities for the fourth industrial revolution, with the Kingdom increasingly looking to be a center of the new technological age.
 


KAUST develops innovative wastewater treatment in Saudi Arabia

KAUST develops innovative wastewater treatment in Saudi Arabia
Updated 07 February 2023

KAUST develops innovative wastewater treatment in Saudi Arabia

KAUST develops innovative wastewater treatment in Saudi Arabia
  • Universities, industrial partners can work together to solve problems, says VP

JEDDAH: The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology has completed its innovative mobile plant project for wastewater treatment, after five years of research at the university’s water desalination and reuse research center.

The project is a result of the efforts and partnerships between KAUST and the National Water Company.

The technology is the first of its kind in the Kingdom, as it treats wastewater and converts it efficiently into reusable water for areas that are not connected to the central sewage network.

In September last year, KAUST and the Saudi Authority for Industrial Cities and Technology Zones, or MODON, teamed up to tackle wastewater treatment. (Supplied)

It can reduce energy demand by 50 percent, and produce treated water of similar or even better quality than that produced by conventional biological treatment processes.

It is expected that this technology will have a significant impact on underserved areas of the Kingdom by creating new job opportunities that support Saudi youth and offer them the chance to make use of their talents.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The mobile plant treats wastewater and converts it efficiently into reusable water for areas that are not connected to the central sewage network.

• It can reduce energy demand by 50 percent, and produce treated water of similar or even better quality than that produced by conventional biological treatment processes.

Kevin Cullen, vice president of innovation at KAUST said: “Developing a reliable wastewater treatment service is one of the biggest challenges we face today.”

Cullen also pointed out that the ecosystem of deep tech startups at KAUST has become so developed that it has enabled the university to build strong partnerships with the government and established companies, which work together to bring these startups closer to the market.

In September last year, KAUST and the Saudi Authority for Industrial Cities and Technology Zones, or MODON, teamed up to tackle wastewater treatment.

Cullen said: “The relationship between KAUST and MODON is an excellent example of how universities and industrial partners can work together to solve real challenges in our society and in a city like Jeddah where we need to increase wastewater treatment capacity.”

MODON has been piloting a new wastewater bioreactor technology at scale at their industrial city in Jeddah.

During this partnership, Peiying Hong, an associate professor at KAUST, developed a new, zero-energy technology that may hold the key to transforming wastewater sustainability and recycling.

MODON, which operates significant infrastructure throughout the Kingdom for environmental services including wastewater treatment plants, has selected Hong’s technology to pilot on-site at its first industrial city in Jeddah.

Cullen explained: “This technology not only processes wastewater more efficiently using a decentralized treatment model, it can be done in an energy-neutral way providing sustainability for the future.”

 


Massive turnout for LEAP tech conference in Riyadh proves to be a mixed blessing

Massive turnout for LEAP tech conference in Riyadh proves to be a mixed blessing
Updated 08 February 2023

Massive turnout for LEAP tech conference in Riyadh proves to be a mixed blessing

Massive turnout for LEAP tech conference in Riyadh proves to be a mixed blessing
  • For two days in a row, attendees have braved Riyadh’s rush-hour traffic and capacity crowd to gain admission
  • Event has proved a great opportunity for investments, partnerships, meetings and networking with people in tech

RIYADH: Such has been the overwhelming popularity of this year’s LEAP 23, a four-day annual tech conference hosted in the Saudi capital Riyadh, that organizers were forced to close the doors to new attendees on Tuesday after the venue reached maximum capacity. 

Held at the Riyadh International Convention & Exhibition Center, the event’s second edition has seen a massive turnout, as some of the biggest names in the tech world showcase their products and discuss new industry trends.

For two days, students, entrepreneurs and startup owners have braved Riyadh’s rush-hour traffic and large crowds to gain admission — a challenge one attendee described as “a logistical nightmare,” as more than 250,000 registrations were recorded on the first day alone.

Amal Al-Khalid, 24, traveled from the Eastern Province to take part in one of two contests — the Rocket Fuel competition and Alibaba Cloud hackathon — with a SR6 million ($1.5 million) prize pool aimed at rewarding Saudi-based startups and boosting cloud technologies.

“I came with the intention of checking out the competition with my three colleagues as our startup is focused on providing water treatment solutions for domestic use,” she told Arab News on the sidelines of the event.

“Our idea came up as we kept hearing about the problems with the quality at home. I knew it was going to be crowded as many members of our entrepreneurial community spoke of LEAP for months, but I did not expect to see crowds of this kind.”

The Rocket Fuel competition, supported by the National Information Technology Development Program and the Misk Foundation, aims to help new businesses, highlight entrepreneurial projects, and build innovative solutions that address technical challenges.

As many as 90 local startups will compete for a chance to be one of 15 awarded a share of SR4 million, with a top prize of almost SR940,000. The event is a great opportunity as far as investments, partnerships and meetings are concerned, to say nothing of connecting with new people in tech from around the world.

Several young tech entrepreneurs were drawn by the prospect of competing in the contests and the chance to network on the LEAP 23 sidelines. However, the event’s enormous popularity appeared to overwhelm the available facilities.

“User journeys were not planned out correctly,” Ghaliah Al-Sukait, an experience and planning development manager, told Arab News.

“Only the main pathway had ushers organizing the human traffic. All the other pathways were disorganized and not clear. The distribution of booths did not allow for smooth transitions from one space to the other, but rather created even more traffic.

“Given the huge anticipated footfall, there should have been multiple entrances and exits to the space to allow users to move freely. Instead, there was only one main entrance (for regular tickets) and one main exit at the opposite side, forcing users to walk through the entire space within the traffic.

“The exit was positioned far away from the parking, leading users to walk through the parking after an already long walk through the space. This resulted in increased frustration from users.”

Roads to and from the venue were also packed, with attendees spending hours stuck in traffic.

“Having left my house at around 1 p.m., and there was a lot of traffic, it took me over an hour to get there,” one visitor from the US told Arab News.

“It was a mess with the traffic. The venue was large. It’s at least a 2-3 mile walk because it’s so huge and overwhelming, though nice. But there were no legends or maps to tell you where to go. They (the crowd) were just standing there,” she added.

LEAP 23 will run until Feb. 9, and features an exhibitor and convention line-up of transformational talent, a product showcase of advanced and generative technology potential, and a celebrity guest list of billionaire entrepreneurs, business magnates, sporting heroes, and musical icons-turned futurists and financiers.

On Monday, the conference announced more than $9 billion in investments to support future technologies, entrepreneurship, and tech startups to enhance the Kingdom’s position as the largest digital economy in the Middle East and North Africa region.