Beneath Shades Never Fades is a woodcut print by Soghra Khurasani, an artist based in Vadodara, India. Acquired by the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art in 2016, it is scheduled to go on display in 2022.

The eye hovers just high enough to view the shape of a crater inundated with scarlet. The scene seems to shiver even as it fumes. Which is to say, it is built out of questions: What kind of green needs a vein of lava to get fed? What kind of shade is a brighter shade of blood?

Fig. 3. Khurasani, Soghra, Beneath Shades Never Fades, 2014, Woodcut, 87 x 138, The Waswo X. Waswo Collection of Indian Printmaking

Asked by an interviewer, Khurasani said this relationship began in 2009, when she was a student, and persisted for the next half-decade: “Every time I apply the paint to the woodblocks, it is a shade of red, I don’t know why I cannot stop using this color.”

Not-knowing lives within language like a folded, evasive pigment. Any sight of “lava” is citational, since the term did not exist before Vesuvius erupted. Whether or not we have any use for this fact, it will continue to function. The etymological weight (from labes: to fall, to subside, to collapse) lifts and slumps in our mouths as we speak it. 

Khursani’s topographies have been read as “a relay of landscapes that urge a catharsis that can come about by allowing women to be heard in equal voices” by Sumesh Sharma, who has written elsewhere on the anticipatory relationship between Khursani’s prints and a brutal, highly-publicized case of rape and murder in Delhi. But even as Khursani’s print imagines a vegetation that thickens as it is fed by a tense, complementary coloring of magma instead of turning to ash, her composition renders the process of a relief print — in which any patterning depends on what has been carved away from the surface and out of view — more emphatically what it is: a manifestation of violence and control.

Not-knowing delineates a rim of what occurs without us, but in us, including us even when we do not want to be included. It is nested within a cratering present, where someone is always telling you about an impending collapse and redescribing what their campaign will do to keep you safe from a shared internal enemy. “Khurasani’s output can be ominous if examined in conjunction with the resounding electoral victory of Narendra Modi, India’s new prime minister who has been accused of supposedly abetting a pogrom against the minority Muslim community” wrote Zeenat Nagree in 2014, as reactionary nationalists gained cultural and electoral momentum in Poland, the United States, and Brazil.