For many of us, one of the defining features of the coronavirus has been its ability to put our working lives into sharp perspective. While some people have flourished in the solitude of their makeshift WFH setups, others have floundered as they long for a return to the familiar routine of office life.
In Mohammad Sharaf’s case, lockdown has proved to be a rude awakening. Pre-pandemic, the Kuwait-based designer and Sharaf Studio director’s typical working day would see him up and out no sooner than he had finished his morning coffee. “I didn’t even spend half an hour at home in the morning before going to the office, but during Covid, I wake up, I have to make breakfast, I sit around, and I’ve already wasted two hours,” he says. “Because of what is happening around us, especially at the beginning, you can’t focus. As a result, I find myself not as productive.”
At the start of lockdown, Sharaf also began to notice his social media feeds being filled with endless posts highlighting the importance of keeping busy amid all the uncertainty. “What was interesting is how many people and organisations started popularising the idea of, ‘use this time to learn something new’, or ‘if you don’t invest your time to evolve, you didn’t make the best of it’,” he says.
In the spirit of keeping busy, Sharaf began to think about ways of visually translating the two contrasting narratives surrounding WFH in a way that everyone could relate to. Already using Instagram as a playground for his photography, he decided it would be the perfect platform to bring the new project to life.
“I remember, one day, I woke up with this idea of creating a sarcastic photo on how people are working from home, preaching and pretending that it’s all OK,” says Sharaf. Posted on April 6, the first image in the series Working From Home depicts the photographer sitting in bed, on his laptop and drinking coffee, all the while dressed up in a white dishdasha, the traditional garment worn by men in the Gulf region and used as formal business attire.
As the pandemic raged on in the following months, Sharaf shared eight more satirical self-portraits of his WFH existence, drawing inspiration from the ‘picture-perfect’ lives depicted in the traditional housewife adverts seen in the 1950s and 60s.
The resulting images are a quick-witted take on the more surreal aspects of our collective reality, from the pressure to squeeze in home workouts in already cramped living spaces, to the new normal of wearing business attire on top and pyjamas on the bottom for the endless stream of Zoom meetings we’re now subjected to.
As well as breaking the cycle of Sharaf’s own lockdown boredom, Working From Home has resonated with people around the world who can relate to the absurdity of lockdown life, with some even feeling inspired to create their own satirical self-portraits in response.
“It was an interesting interaction because, although we are very different people, with different backgrounds, living in different places and circumstances, we somehow relate to these portraits,” says Sharaf.