When a group of Lowveld residents decided in 2014 to assist the Greater Rape Intervention Programme (GRIP) with fundraising, little did they know that they would be tickling the imagination of the country.
The Chicken Challenge is the brainchild of Nelspruit-based artist Reinette Fourie who cut her teeth making many of the marionettes that stole hearts on SABC TV shows in the 70s – including Mina Moo and Aasvoël die Raasvoël for Good Morning South Africa’s Nuustak.
So when she, well-known South African artist Karin Daymond and businesswoman Marlize Meyer joined the project in 2014, it already had considerable clout and polish. However, this year’s Chicken Challenge, which – to use a cliché – is bigger and better than before, reflects just how appealing the initiative is to the wider art community, philanthropists and humanitarians.
It has attracted heavyweight manufacturer Sappi Southern Africa as its main sponsor, has maintained a base of loyal smaller sponsors, and exponentially grown artists’ involvement. The Chicken Challenge 2016 includes an array of local talent as well as artists from Argentina and Australia and an expected 200 chickens will be on display. In its founding year, 67 chickens were on display – generating around R30 000. In 2015, 107 chickens went on display and around R60 000 was raised.
“With the interest in the canvases, the calibre of artists and the support of local businesses, we are expecting great results for 2016,” says Chicken Challenge committee member Caren Venter.
Chicken Challenge in a nutshell
3-D chicken ‘canvasses’ are sold for a nominal fee to artists and people with a creative flair, who transform them into works of art before donating them back to the Chicken Challenge so that they can be auctioned off to raise funds for GRIP.
Why chickens? “Chickens are part of everyday life in South Africa and everyone relates to them,” says Caren. The shape of the chicken was inspired by a wooden sculpture by Polish artist Daruiz Novak.
Growing more than trees
To mark its 80th anniversary, Sappi Southern Africa has this year commissioned eight well-known artists to complete chickens – one for each of its eight decades of operations. The artists are Ayanda Nkosi, Jo Roets, Rogerio de Andrade, Niki Daly, Anton Bosch, Margy Malan, Karin Daymond and Ardmore Ceramics.
“Sappi’s sponsorship has enabled us to grow the initiative even bigger and create more awareness of the Chicken Challenge and GRIP,” says Caren.
Elsabe Coetzee, the Regional Communications Manager of Sappi, says that Sappi grows more than trees. “We grow people and possibilities and have been doing so for 80 years,” she says, adding that they are proud to support the annual Chicken Challenge fundraiser, which is ‘an extraordinary initiative’.
“The project speaks of partnerships and co-creation. It is a call for action for communities to be a part of something remarkable, be a part of change. Sappi strongly associates with causes such as GRIP which is aimed at growing healthy communities.”
An integral part of the Lowveld community since the Ngodwana mill was opened 50 years ago, Elsabe says that not only is Sappi’s workforce drawn from the region, but it is also where Sappi grows its lifeblood – tree farming.
“We are humbled yet very proud to be closely linked with the communities in the areas where we operate. It is what makes us successful.”
GRIP and a caring community
The Chicken Challenge is run by passionate people who are dedicated to assisting GRIP with its funding.
On the team are founders Reinette, Karin and Marlize as well as social worker Danel Liebenberg and Caren, who is a creative services and operations professional. They are supported by businesswomen Charmaine Pinker and Helen Shormann. Helen also helped set up the Chicken Challenge website.
Team members all donate their time and effort on a voluntary basis. The only salaries paid go toward the craft workers who are taught how to produce the chicken canvasses. In this way, the Chicken Challenge also does its bit for creating jobs and developing skills in Mpumalanga’s Lowveld area.
“The support that we have received from local businesses and individuals is overwhelming and we are very grateful,” says Caren. “We are extremely grateful to everyone who has pitched in, helped and even just listened, from family, friends, sponsors, committee members, artists and well-wishers. I get a buzz when people get as excited and passionate about the project as I am; it is for a truly worthy cause.”
All proceeds of the auction go to GRIP, which performs an essential function by helping the most vulnerable people in society. It supports victims of rape and abuse with things like care rooms in hospitals, police stations and courts, court readiness and home visits.
“Part of the energy for the Chicken Challenge comes from it providing a chance for so many to get involved in a positive and colourful way. The work that GRIP does can be grim and they need all the help they can get to keep up their energy and positivity.
“GRIP has been through some turmoil with regards to funding during the past few years. This is due to the economic climate, cuts in traditional funding streams and the redistribution of foreign funds because of factors such as the refugee crisis in Europe,” says Caren. “Therefore, Chicken Challenge funding has been used where there have been shortfalls, whether operationally or in care rooms.
“The 2016 funds will be dedicated to care rooms within specific hospitals.”
Exhibition and auction
This year, online bidding will make the Chicken Challenge accessible to people regardless of where they are.
Around 200 artworks by people from around South Africa and a few abroad can be viewed by members of the public at the White River Gallery, Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre, from June 16 to July 11.
The official opening of the exhibition is on Youth Day – June 16 – at noon, which will coincide with the opening of online bidding. Bidders will receive notifications if they have been outbid or if theirs was the winning bid.
Gallery hours are 10:00-16:00 (weekdays and Saturdays) and 10:00-14:00 (Sundays and public holidays)