Found Space

One woman's journey from a 9-5 grind to creating what she loves full-time

Janell Langford and I will make one thing clear at the beginning of this week's column: Santa Fe is a space for black women, the art world as a whole is a space for black women and black women will be seen and celebrated.

This is the premise behind Langford's fashion and design line Obsidiopolis, which launched in 2017 and recently partnered with Meow Wolf to help distribute clothing and print designs. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Langford first moved to Seattle and was studying graphic design, where things felt off.

"I wasn't observing the aesthetic most inspiring to me, which is black women," she tells SFR. "I think especially a lot of black and brown people can relate to this—you go off to school, or it's just where you live, the option to move to a more -diverse area isn't something that's on the table, and we find ourselves, kind of in a funk … and so for me, if I don't see what I want to see around me, it's my job to -create. I'm a creator."

After completing her program, she was grinding away at a 9-5 in production design, and "it was not a creative job at all," she says. She would go home at night to draw and to create her new world.

"With our generation, we value doing something that we actually love, we don't just want to be stuck in a rut," Langford says.

So what is Obsidiopolis?

"It's a through-the-looking-glass utopia world inhabited by women of color and it's a vision that is unapologetically femme, and black, and urban, and pop and fashionable," Langford explains.

In a recent presser, Meow Wolf -described it as a "design universe" which manifests in various media, including sweaters, cards, posters, photography and (the manifestation this author is most looking forward to) a comic book, slated for release in March. Langford tries to stay tight-lipped, but she's in love with her work and I'm curious about what she plans for the longer format, so she spills some deets.

Her designs are eminently pleasing to view, a mix of pop art and surrealism and soft explosions of color.

"I intentionally chose bright colors -because I want people to feel positive vibes when they look at my work," she says.

Langford paused carefully before choosing to say "positive vibes," and it's not a cheap New Age-y sentiment. Each illustration is a moment in reality, expressed through Langford's particular eye toward unique patterns, textures and forms.

"I'm definitely inspired by … Kerry James Marshall … when you look at his work, you felt the experience of that person, he took you to an era or a place in time … and honestly I just kind of see these -images, [they] pop into my head and I need to release them out into the world."

A lifelong illustrator, Langford -recounts an early example of creating black woman-led spaces in her own family, when her nieces saw her drawing a character with an afro.

"One of my nieces said, 'why don't you draw them to look like this … white woman?' I didn't have the language at the time, but I remember being really sad. I wanted to draw people that I found to be the most beautiful, and my black niece is looking at this image of a white woman, and thinking that is the translation of what beauty should be and what I should be drawing."

These days, the nieces are in high school, and "They love [my art]," Langford says. "They were very young" when that incident happened, but they also weren't seeing enough art from creative black women like Langford being centered and allowed the space it deserves.

Now, that's changing with a little support from Meow Wolf. Langford has worked with the arts corporation before, most notably on the mural "Player One" in the arcade at the House of Eternal Return. It brought her on to produce her comic book, and then offered her full-time work under the Obsidiopolis line.

"The collaboration is all about helping me and giving me more resources. Helping elevate what I'm trying to say. My goal with Obsidiopolis … is about seeing underrepresented voices—women, LGBTQIA, black and brown people—and Meow Wolf knows that. That's why they hired me in the first place," Langford says.

Such support will come in the form of greater production and distribution -capabilities, plus help handling the business aspects of being an artist.

Oh, and that comic book coming in March?

"There's actually gonna be, for real, black girl magic," Langford says.

Think a colorful planet made of obsidian, a confident, mysterious pop star and maybe even "sort of an avatar of myself," Langford hints. For now, find her designs in the Meow Wolf shop or online.

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.