miranda july’s new art project tracks the uber driver who took her to meet rihanna

Oumarou Idrissa has suffered chronic insomnia since he was almost deported when he couldn’t afford tuition in the States. Miranda hopes to change that.

by Georgie Wright
22 May 2018, 10:26am

Image via Instagram

Not just there to cart you from A to B, Uber drivers are people too and have their own fascinating stories. Unexpected past jobs, stories, homes, all masked by a rating out five stars on an app.

Artist Miranda Julyhas done a portrait through an app that tracks the sleep of the Uber driver who drove her to the location where she was going to interview Rihanna.

In a Instagram post, the LA based film director, screenwriter, singer, actress and author writes, “On August 22, 2015 I called for an Uber, and a man named Oumarou Idrissa picked me up from my house in Los Angeles. He drove me to Malibu in a black SUV.” In the post, she doesn’t mention the fact she was on her way to interview Rihanna for The New York Times Style Magazine, but the ride was clearly memorable enough to reference in at the time: “I ordered Uber Black -- the highest level of Uber I’ve ridden.” She then foreshadows the current project, saying: “Over the next two hours I interviewed Oumarou Idrissa about how he survived during his first five years in Los Angeles after his student visa had fallen through. He slept in laundromats, sending tiny sums of money back to Niger where his 25 brothers and sisters were starving. This took us through the beach traffic; we grew quiet as the SUV zipped along beach cliffs above blue water. I think we both suddenly remembered Rihanna.”

She was so absorbed by Oumarou that she wrote a whole 436 word intro on her interview with him before she even gets to a quote from Rihanna. Clearly he made an impact on her. So much so that her latest project, I’M THE PRESIDENT, BABY, tracks his day to day interaction with sleep and technology real time, visually representing it at the V&A Museum through some sets of curtains.

The anxiety and insomnia Oumarou battled with throughout his homelessness and risk of deportation have scarred. “Now Oumarou is a U.S. citizen – but he still can’t sleep more than two hours at a time and never more than a total of four or five hours a night.”

In the hope that “telling his story of sleeplessness might actually bring him the peace he needs to finally sleep,” Miranda tracked his sleep patterns to project on curtains in London, which symbolise what he’s up to -- the blue ones show if he’s asleep or awake, the brown whether he’s opened Whatsapp, the pink whether he’s logged on to Uber to show he’s available for rides.

It’s a powerful visual project that broaches a number of themes -- the power of technology to connect across continents, the precious but ephemeral nature of sleep, the impact of the political on the personal. And, not least, that you can learn a lot from your Uber driver’s story.

I’m The President, Baby is on view through November 4th at the V&A Museum as part of The Future Starts Here exhibition.

miranda july
Oumarou Idrissa