Meet Jonah Strub:
Jonah Strub is a past University of Guelph student who graduated in 2019 from the Studio Art and Honour’s Psychology program. He was a very involved individual in various clubs and organizations during his Undergrad, and in his senior years at U of G, he took part in several research and on-campus work opportunities. In his fifth year of school, two Studio Art professors, The Fastwürms, introduced him to the idea of doing an experiential learning course working and doing research at the ArQuives, known at the time as the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives in Toronto Ontario. Throughout his time completing this experiential learning course at the ArQuives, Jonah learned about the Toronto Queer community and its history, made great intergenerational connections, and was able to ground his art practice which focuses on Drag culture and Queer aesthetics, while discovering more about the Drag and Queer history of his local community. Jonah tells us about his experiences and what he learned throughout his research, how it impacted the way he thinks about his art practice, and his advice for current students around getting involved.
Tell us about the Experiential Learning course that you did! What was your role?
“I did an Experiential Learning at an organization called the ArQuives, formerly known as the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives. It’s a huge archive that has been collecting Canadian-specific Lesbian and Gay articles, books, newspapers, posters, and any piece of information that is significant to the story of the Canadian Queer community. My job there was to curate an online exhibition about a topic of my choice.”
“While I was there, I did a lot of research and I had a lot of topics that were interesting to me. I had access to so much information, and I got a lot of support from the staff. I ended up coming to the conclusion that I wanted to do something about the history of drag in Toronto, and specifically a historical moment of the Halloween Gay Bashing that happened every year.”
What did you learn from that project?
“While I was looking, I wasn’t sure what my topic would be, and I just learned so much about Toronto’s Gay history. I eventually found something that I had never heard of before. The bar that this event happened at was called the Letros Bar and cross dressing for a period of time in Canadian history was illegal, except on Halloween. Every Halloween, these Gay bars would have huge events that encouraged drag and cross-dressing, but hand-in-hand with that, Queer people were also put at risk of danger. My project was documenting the history of that and documenting the first of all the participants, the main figures in the Queer scene, the police who were involved in this case, and the organizations that came from this who protected Queer people in Toronto. Although it’s a really sad part of history, a lot came out of it. There are groups of Gay activists who came about from this who protected the Gay community. It’s really interesting.”
“I learned so much, and I think one of the best parts of that experience, was the people I worked with at the ArQuives; they were Gay seniors. Gay history isn’t that old in Toronto. The men I was working with were going to these bars in the 70s and remembered the people that I was writing articles about. A lot of hints of where I should find information came from the people who were working there because they had a lot of knowledge about it. It was so valuable having this intergenerational communication and to share that history, something that I'm so far removed from, with a cohort of people I never would have met otherwise.”
Tell us about your art practice! Did this course help inform your work at all?
“I am a multidisciplinary artist; I mostly paint, sculpt, and do ceramics. All of my stuff is figurative, and it’s inspired by drag, concepts of camp and kitsch aesthetics, Jewish and Yiddish humour, musical theatre, and gender bending in a really joyful, celebrational way. It’s all about celebrating deviations from gender, celebrating femininity in a male’s body, celebrating flamboyancy, and creating visibility.”
Painting (top) and sculpture (bottom) by Jonah Strub.
“I think it’s really important as a Queer person to learn about and engage with Gay history, and I think that I’m really privileged to have grown up in a big city with the family and community that I have, where I have felt really safe. Obviously, there are hardships to being Gay but working with the ArQuives has really opened my eyes to how much work has had to be done to even allow me to celebrate my flamboyancy and my Gayness, be considered a valued member of society, and be physically safe in so many spaces that are so important to me.”
“It was a really special place and an amazing opportunity to get this intergenerational connection. It really helped me to understand why it was important to make the art that I was making and made me feel like I was engaging with my community by having this education. I now have tangible community-specific knowledge, relationships, and gratitude that is now a part of my work.”
Was there anything about this experience that surprised you?
“Having that connection with a different generation of Gay men – that really was amazing. I remember I had this immediate reaction when I saw them, because I have this experience with older men where they don’t understand me. Usually, I have to change the way I present so I am more in line with their world view, and I don’t necessarily feel comfortable around most 70-year-old men, but it was special realizing that these men were so excited to have me there and that I was engaging with not only Toronto’s history, but their history too. I was excited to do the project – I love research and I love writing, but I think that’s the thing I will hold on to the most.”
Were you involved in other Experiential Learning while at U of G?
“I was a part of FAN (Fine Arts Network), which if you’re in art, you should join. I was also in Hillel in first year, I did Specialized studio in my fifth year, and I was also in a Psych research lab. I was part of a study in Professor Thomas Sasso’s lab about Queer resources on University campuses which was great. I also worked at SPARK in fourth year and at the AGG as a Work Study. I went to Bremen for an exchange which was the best time of my life. I made so many amazing friends that I’m still in touch with. I also did a blended Undergrad/Masters class with Shauna McCabe at the Art Gallery of Guelph (AGG) where we put on an Indigenous Art Exhibition.”
Can you expand on the course at the AGG and what you learned?
“It was a part of the Indigenous Art History course. Our job was to organize and curate an exhibition about Indigenous art and create a consistent theme, and to be well versed in the artist, their medium, the community that they are from, and the kind of art that they made. That was really special because the AGG has one of the largest Inuit Drawing Collections in Canada. It was amazing to have the opportunity to curate a show with the Director of the Gallery and learn about Indigenous art and artists from the collection.”
Do you have a favourite U of G Experiential Learning memory?
“My entire 4th and 5th year was when I focused in on ‘I’m an artist, I’m making art, I’m taking every opportunity to make this happen and to make connections’ and that’s when I made some really special memories. Working at the AGG was spectacular; I loved working there. I loved getting to see art every day and get to guide people through and talk about art, help with opening/closing exhibitions, and going through the archives. Bremen and Specialized studio were also pretty special.”
What would your advice be to current U of G students?
“Send as many emails as you can. Take control of your future; professors want to help you. University gives you direct access to active members of research, or their direct occupation-based community and you should take control of that! If you want to join a research lab, email professors saying that you want to join their lab. If you want Experiential Learning, make it known because the right thing will come to you. What you’ll remember most is volunteering at a really spectacular organization, or the research paper that you helped with that got published. That’s where the value of school comes in. It’s the connections you make and the experiences you get from it.”