Amos Supuni, 1970-2008

By catalyst

Supuni’s sculptures, visited by thousands at Utah’s Red Butte Garden, and his teaching and freindship, inspired many. Also, Zimbabwe: 25 years of chaos.
by Carol Koleman

We read about political corruption and terrorism in Zimbabwe—the cholera epidemic, tragic deaths and civil unrest; but it seems so distant. We experience these events abstractly, somewhat emotionally removed: We cannot comprehend the challenges that people face half a world away.

But the violent death of a friend with whom many in Salt Lake City were connected, who was a part of our community, changes all that.

Amos Supuni came to Utah in 2002 to teach stone carving, though he did not teach as much as inspire those he came in contact with. Amos was a true master artist who taught his students how to be guided by the stone rather then follow his technique. He believed there is a dialogue with the material, that one “may start with an idea, but the stone makes its own decision.” He said, “You have to let go of your preconceptions, you have to learn how to respect the stone, how to negotiate with it.”

Amos was born in 1970. In 1989 after completing school, he became involved with a Catholic youth group and a year later moved to Silvera House, a Catholic-run skills training center. There he learned to work with stone, and found that he excelled.

In 1991, Amos spent six months in Tanzania as part of a cultural exchange program. There he learned print making, batik, lino cut and etching techniques while holding workshops for stone carving. He returned to Silvera House to continue his work. In 1996, he was chosen by Chapungu founder Roy Guthrie to become part of the Chapungu artists’ residency program and would later travel the world exhibiting and teaching stone carving workshops.

Amos often returned to Silvera House to encourage and teach those who wanted to sculpt. His own experiences showed him that community-based projects were a source of support and income for youths and he believed art could be a way out of poverty. Amos viewed his work as “a voice for the voiceless,” often tackling social issues such as the plight of street kids and the poverty-stricken. But he also portrayed the joys of human experience such as his depictions of extended family, the birth of his son, and his connection to the natural world which is at the heart of Shona (Zimbabwean) sculpture.

In 2002, Red Butte Garden exhibited the works of the Chapunga group and over several months, members of the group taught workshops to the public. Amos so inspired our community that he was asked by the Alta Community Enrichment and Snowbird Resort to teach a three-month workshop. This was followed by another three-month series through Salt Lake’s First Unitarian Church.

Amos touched many people in our community; some call him brother, some changed the direction of their lives to practice stone carving. Many have their own creations displayed proudly in their homes. All are a testament to the remarkable influence this one man made in a few short months in America.

Amos’ life in his homeland was very difficult, with starvation a daily threat as a result of Zimbabwe’s economic collapse. In fact, it was in search of food in neighboring Mozambique for his family that Amos was killed.

Amos leaves behind an extended family that depended on him for support: mother, aunts, three stepsons, his pregnant wife Fortunate, and other community members.

Amos’ body was put to rest late last month with funds gathered from his Utah community of friends.

This article was originally published on December 31, 2008.