Introducing Obsidiopolis, a design universe centered around the Black-Femme experience created by Santa Fe graphic artist and designer Janell Langford.
Always drawn to the arts, Langford started out pursuing a career in graphic design. Her journey through this program proved a conundrum as she was challenged by instructors not to include her illustrations in her work. This discouragement didn’t stop her, though. Langford continued to develop what would become Obsidiopolis from magazine concept.
Langford moved to Santa Fe after Seattle began feeling less like home. She longed for a caring, supportive community and a fresh start. Santa Fe provided that, along with sunshine and a plethora of warm tones that contributed to the new color palette of her works. However, life in Santa Fe also came with its struggles — Langford was still a minority as a black woman. She continued to crave the community she felt was missing, and the lack of black visibility within the city and the arts scene was isolating.
In order to distract herself from her anxiety and the adjustment to life in Santa Fe, Langford dove deep into her art. From markets in Albuquerque to an Etsy shop, she produced more clothing, prints, and pins, maturing the characters of Obsidiopolis and building storylines from her experiences. It didn’t take long for Meow Wolf to take notice. Their first collaboration was called “Player One,” a vibrant, ‘80s-overloaded mural set inside the arcade of House of Eternal Return.
Now, Obsidiopolis and Meow Wolf are joining forces again. This time, they are showcasing and selling Langford’s new line: “Faceted”. Her works range from pins to prints, clothing, and greeting cards, and all can be found in the Meow Wolf Santa Fe gift shop and online store.
Langford has spent years turning her creations into relatable characters, heroes, and visionaries for the black community. To learn more about the multifaceted world of Obsidiopolis, I sat down with her to discuss her favorite pieces and the stories behind them...
This piece is about confronting yourself. In dream analysis, if you encounter an image or reflection of yourself it can mean you're about to come to a reckoning with your actions or behavior. The character of CJ — the protagonist of the Obsidiopolis story world — has one such encounter, and this is an interpretation of that event.
Langford struggles with anxiety. She recalls being especially culture shocked upon moving to the relatively small city of Santa Fe from the metropolis and melting pot that is Seattle. “I felt like I had grown out of the city. It was time for a fresh start, but I remember coming to Santa Fe and being disappointed by the lack of diversity. I was still in a predominantly white space.”
“I am lacking visibility, so I feel exhausted because it’s almost like I have to speak for my whole community or hold the torch for my community,” Langford elaborates. “It becomes harder to make friends when you’re older. It isolates you even more.”
She began focusing on her work as therapy, taking the bright Santa Fe landscape and incorporating it in her pieces. Take, for example, CJ’s Dream: the sherbet oranges and rich yellows dominate the scene. A pensive character stands alone on a desert-like plane, multicolored hair blowing in the wind.
Langford used to make a lot of wooden, hand-painted, laser-cut statement jewelry: anything from ice cream cones to lemon shapes. Having a setup in a boutique in Seattle was Langford’s first experience with selling her physical product.
Eyes are a recurring theme in her work, and in this design, it's a representation of feeling seen and confident enough to speak your truth. It's weird, playful, and is reminiscent of Pee Wee's Playhouse.
“I remember going into a coffee shop in Seattle. The black woman helping me recognized the earrings I was wearing — the earrings I made!” Langford recounts. She was empowered and elated to have a space to sell her product. “It felt like this was the biggest step. I was like, what can I possibly do next?”
Fantastrophe is the first recurring character created for Obsidiopolis. They're all about freedom of expression, empowerment, lifting up underrepresented voices, and of course, spreading as many colors throughout the world as possible. Fantastrophe is also represented in the long sleeve tee and pin for Langford’s "Faceted" collection. You can find quotes by this character throughout Obsidiopolis' social platforms.
Langford’s passion for building community, learning about the people in that community, and finding ways to collaborate has always been the motivator for why she creates. She used the beginning stages of Obsidiopolis as a project for black culture visibility. Langford wanted to provoke feelings of positivity, strength, and play in her work. She wanted the black community to understand that they were seen at every age and stage in their lives.
“I want to acknowledge you. I want to give you a platform,” she says. “I never really got that growing up. I want to be an inspiration, especially for kids and people of color.”
Fantastrophe is mysterious, but radiant and confident. They’re usually depicted in surreal settings, exploding with color.
For Langford, Meow Wolf represents a bridge between art and play, “When we were kids, art and play were borderless, one and the same. Meow Wolf reintroduces that element of play for both the artist and the person experiencing the art. When I created Obsidiopolis I had the same goal in mind. Play and playfulness are at the heart of what I do.”
For kids of color to see themselves represented in beautiful, positive, and adventurous art works is nothing short of inspiring. “It is an emotional experience to see kids pick up my things in the Meow Wolf shop. I hear the oohs and ahhh and see their interest.” Langford says.
In addition to being able to explore how her art relates to younger generations, Langford and Meow Wolf’s collaboration also represents endless possibilities.
“Meow Wolf is simply giving me the freedom to do what would be very difficult if I had to work a day job to support my art. My art is my job now. They've helped me to make that official. They've also opened opportunities for me, such as immersive installation and media. Collaborating with them has opened up access to almost every medium, allowing me to explore some of my wildest ideas.”
What’s next for Langford? Langford strives for her world of Obsidiopolis to continue to feel more whole. She has big dreams of developing it into a platform that celebrates the black community through a comic book (coming soon), workshops, and outreach.
Demi Harvey is a digital content creator based out of Denver. When she’s not knee deep in digital marketing, she’s hosting her podcast Shoes off, please! A lover of music, arts, and fashion Demi is passionate about connecting the creative community. Follow her on IG: @demisassypants