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Screenshots at Coquitlam arts hub give "a window into people’s pandemic lives"

Port Coquitlam photographer Asalah Youssef, 18, has nine images and stories up at Coquitlam's Evergreen Cultural Centre until May, capturing the pandemic isolation.

If you want to understand what the world went through last year physically, mentally and emotionally, Port Coquitlam photographer Asalah Youssef has a collection of images that capture the pandemic isolation.

Screenshots of Home is the Instagram series that the 18-year-old woman created to honour the collective trauma we went through in 2020, and continues today.

And, until May, her snaps from Zoom and FaceTime — along with the stories she gleaned from more than 40 friends, family and strangers in 20 countries — can be viewed on the east side of Coquitlam’s Evergreen Cultural Centre.

The location of her first solo exhibit is ideal, Youssef said, as the display curated by Evergreen’s Anna Luth is highlighted through a window. As one viewer put it, her show offers a “window into people’s pandemic lives,” with viewers peeking in and the subjects looking out through Youssef’s virtual lens.

A Grade 12 student at Langley Fine Arts School, Youssef said last year was tough. 

“When the pandemic hit, I found myself not creating as often as I wanted to,” she told the Tri-City News. “There were a lot of mental pressures, and I was trying to do my best to stay in the present moment.”

But as the physical distancing restrictions dragged on, Youssef said she grabbed her camera to make art and lift her spirits. “There is power in adapting and being resilient,” she said.

Using social media hashtags to search for subjects and locations, Youssef created a photography project to connect with others and share their points of view of how the pandemic challenged them. Those who agreed to be included in her artwork expressed a range of emotions about the lockdown, and spoke about how they coped as shut-ins. 

For her screenshots, Youssef asked them to take their mobile device or computer to a place in their home that gave them safety and comfort over the year. “In my usual practice, I’m the one who’s all hands on,” she said of the photography framing, “but, for this, they were fully involved and we made art together.”

For her nine profiles at Evergreen, Luth put the spotlight on both local and international subjects: Arlinda, a fashion designer from New Jersey who was interviewed via FaceTime, writes in her caption how “music, color and imagination can never be quarantined” while Henry of North Carolina writes about the closure of his husband’s business and the hurdles of not having therapy for their eldest child, who has special needs.

There are other tales of familial loss, lonesomeness and stress; however, the isolation also opened/reopened relationships, and put an importance on self-care and healing.

“Yes, I want to see people, but I'm finding contentment in a simple life. I don't want to go back to a life that was full of hustle and bustle. I want a life that I don't need a vacation from,” writes Naveen of Surrey, who is pictured with her husband as he gazes into a mirror, with his arm around her.

Luth told the Tri-City News that Youssef’s work “has an admirable sense of empathy that is exemplified in her Screenshots of Home series. I was moved by the way she used the medium of photography to connect with individuals and families from all over the world and create an inclusive space for them to express the loss and joy experienced during the pandemic.” 

As for Youssef's work being shown at Evergreen, the UBC-bound student said she was pleased to be invited. “I was absolutely honoured and so grateful to share my work in my community,” she said. “I hope this project provides an opportunity to reflect on times like this, and know that resilience is beautiful.”

She added, “When we empathize with others, we get more in touch with ourselves. We have these abilities to have genuine and authentic conversations about our lives.”