Banlieue du Turfu and the subversion of the future in the neighborhood

Disclaimer: This is the translation of an article published at TAB UOL.

By the end of 2020, I organized with Envisioning a panel called Decolonizing Futures. On this occasion, we had the opportunity to talk about subgenres of science fiction and fantasy that go beyond the Hollywoodian cliché and the recurring dystopias. For this round table, we invited Prof. Dr. Alexander Meireles (Fantasticursos), Prof. Dr. Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay (University of Oslo/CoFutures), Monika Bielskyte (Protopia Futures), Sarena Ulibarri (World Weaver Press), and Lauren Klein (Aesthetic Autonomy Virtual Salon and Aesthetic Futures for Social Wellness). Topics such as sertãopunk and amazofuturism, solarpunk, afrofuturism and protopia were debated during the occasion.

It was after this opportunity that I had the chance to meet Makan Fofana and Hugo Pilate, two French entrepreneurs, designers, activists and thinkers who presented me their project Banlieue du TURFU. The name comes from the French, where “turfu” is a slang for “future” which was also popularized by the singer Booba, while “banlieue” means neighborhoods or suburbs. In an interview for The New New, an institution which provided support to the project in 2020, Makan said that the idea came after his own experience as a suburban dweller.

In Brazil, we have a joke that says it’s better to suffer in Paris than suffer here. But, in fact, while this expression places Brazil as the suburb of the world, what actually happens is that even in these central parts of the global north there are marginalized regions and populations. Paris is, in fact, a frequently mentioned example in discussions about gentrification which talk about the shacks built near the train line that connects the city to the airport.

After overcoming depression, Makan decided to subvert some of his own values which included religion, hip hop, neighborhood culture and left wing perspectives. He decided to focus his energies and creativity in the propositions made by philosophers like Socrate, Plato and Nietzsche. In fact, the German philosopher inspired Makan specifically in the case of his concept of “will to power” (Wille zur Macht), but in a way that Makan wasn’t searching for political power, social influence or even physical force, but rather something “soft” which encompassed his own vulnerability.

As an employee of one of the biggest incubators of the world, Makan spent one hour and a half on a train from the suburbs to the center of Paris, where their offices were located. It was during these commutings that the designer posed the question: “Why do I have to travel one hour and a half to enter the future? Why can’t my future start in my neighborhood?” Certainly, this thought has already come to mind of millions of dwellers of São Paulo, who ultimately spend hours commuting every day between the satellite cities or the suburbs themselves. But, in fact, the most recurring question to people might be connected to the assumption that they will only be successful when they live downtown.

This was one of the questions made by Makan during his workshops using the methodology of Design Fiction and also during his time working with The New New. In these opportunities, both downtown and suburban Parisian dwellers had to make an extra effort to deconstruct the idea of the future and the neighborhood. First, Makan asked the question “what are the neighborhoods of the future for you?,” which ended up paralyzing his audience. However, when finally someone talked, they said they imagined a place with flats or bigger houses. “So the future of the banlieues is its opposite: it’s a middle class neighborhood. The future of the neighborhood was a blindspot in urban culture,” argued the designer.

Here in Brazil, the futurist Rosa Alegria often questions her audience with the idea that we need to decolonize the future: not just in a sense of thinking again about the images of the future that should go beyond the imaginary of the global north, but also that we must question these ideas that are already established. In other words, is the future really a picture filled with mirrored buildings with green details or are we talking about 3D-printed houses made out of recycled concrete?

To support such idea, Hugo suggested using the game Fortnite as a creative platform in the development of a scenario that would encompass an intersection between the Banlieue du Turfu and Mars, or an afro-cyber-feminist futuristic neighborhood. During our conversation, I mentioned the Brazilian science fiction subgenres sertãopunk and amazopunk, as well as the novel “O Caçador Ciborgue da Rua 13” (The Cyborg Hunter from the 13th Street), written by Fábio Kabral. In the case of this book, we see an example of an afrofuturist future permeated by references to Afro-Brazilian religious symbols. Together with other powerful and inspiring people like the entrepreneur Morena Mariah (Afrofuturo), it is possible to say that Brazil is already thinking about the future of the suburbs in a way that this term isn’t associated with a negative feeling anymore, nor of inferiority.

I mentioned to Hugo and Makan that the viewpoint was interesting, especially because I am Brazilian and thus born in a former European colony. While Makan talks about the division between the suburbs and the center, barbarians and civilized, black and white, here in Brazil we also discuss colonization or, more specifically, decolonizing processes that have been studied by social scientists.

Movies like Bacurau were a delight to the Brazilian imagination by proposing a reflection about our relationship with foreigners and technology. The criticism made throughout the film is precisely that: it’s not because those people live in a village in the middle of “nowhere” that they are ignorant and submissive to the influences of the “center.” On the other hand, the Brazilian southeastern characters make sure to associate with the foreigners. In a brilliant and unforgettable dialogue, these characters mention that they come from the “richest part of Brazil” and that they were descendants of Europeans, that they were white. However, for the “gringos,” the very fact that they were Brazilian already made them “less white.”

I mention this because we are experiencing troubling times in Brazil. During the pandemic, it was observed an intensification in the so-called “brain drain” phenomena, which means increasingly more skilled Brazilians are migrating to other countries. According to the North American Department of Immigration, in 2019 and 2020, the search for EB1 and EB2 permanent visas increased 40% in comparison to 2017 and 2018, and 135% when compared to 2015 and 2016, when the country was already in recession. In other words, until what point is it possible to achieve this “neighborhood of the future” and how much of it is just stubbornness? The concept of resistance, once again, makes a lot of sense.

In the recent protests of September 12th, one of the organizers made a comment from the highs of a sound car: “The exit of Brazil is not the airport, it is “Bolsonaro Out.” While an impeachment or new elections don’t arrive, thousands of Brazilians are opting for the airport. In the global suburbs, Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Mexico and even Haiti have been experiencing different crises that culminated even to the murderer of a president.

In such a context, it is hard to imagine the future, even though some may bring books like Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Searching for Meaning” as an inspiration. But, as much as stressed by the Mexican philosopher Sayak Valencia, Latin America was always in a crisis and the necropolitics were also part of our structures. While the rest of the world had the opportunity to taste the same bitterness during the pandemic, in the end, during these final moments, what we are seeing is what Valencia had already pointed by the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis: “Those who dreamed that the Covid-19 would be a watershed, in fact, were only experiencing a phantasmagoric privilege.”

In other words, we are increasingly more in need of projects like La Banlieue du TURFU, so that creative processes allow us to disrupt this smashing contemporary hopelessness. For that, the project has different fronts, including a book (in French), as well as a website that invites more people around the world to a joint effort.

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Lidia Zuin

Lidia Zuin


Brazilian journalist, MA in Semiotics and PhD in Visual Arts. Researcher and essayist. Science fiction writer.