Walking through the side doors of the Café des Taxis on AAU’s campus arrived an electric redhead. The woman speedily approached the table with a silver guitar necklace shining off her T-shirt and a grin draped across her face.
Pavla Jonssonova is a sociology professor at Anglo-American University and much like her appearance at the café, Jonssonova brings energy and life to the topics that she teaches.
As an instructor for Subcultures: Lifestyle, Literature, Music and Gender, and Minority & Culture courses at AAU, Jonssonova has worked to show her students the importance of culture in a society.
“She wants to share her knowledge with us to help us become more understanding of the differences in the world,” said one of her students, Georgi Shillington.
Jonssonova’s firsthand experiences regarding culture are what make her teaching so effective. Along with being a professor, she is an active member of an all-women’s band called “Tooth and Nail” (“Zuby nehty”), which has released seven albums and a musical film on Czech TV. Additionally, she has published numerous translations and publications.
With a group of her high school friends by her side, Jonssonova formed an alternative rock band that has found success for over 30 years.
Zuby nehty’s genre changed from being called punk to new wave and then to alternative, as the culture of music evolved with the rise and fall of communism in the former Czechoslovakia.
Jonssonova spoke of the difficulties of musical expression in the 80s under a Soviet-occupied Prague and how there were only two recording studios at the time. One studio, Panton, “got wind of these new-wave bands” and offered Zuby nehty a spot on a series called Rock Debut, and with that the band had their first recording in 1987.
She saw the acceptance of new music and culture with the rise of democracy.
“The 90s was really good for the support of alternative culture because we had alternative President [Václav] Havel,” said Jonssonova. “He was supporting the underground and the alternative.”
Paralleling her own experiences, Jonssonova could see the impact that political movements had on culture and vice versa. She applied this to her studies at Charles University and now to her time as a professor.
“Throughout my studies I’ve loved analyzing these political movements around these creative sparks,” said Jonssonova. “[Subcultures studies is] very creative and cultural and yet it has an intellectual charge so that you can understand the mechanisms of power.”
Although her first love is her band and the songs they write, Jonssonova realized her passion for culture could be further fulfilled through her students.
“[Teaching] is like a little bit of a continuation of the band in a way,” reflected Jonssonova. “ [My classes deal with] subcultures and we go to concerts and we talk about rock music.”
Even more, what separates Jonssonova from others is her determination to expose her students to many facets of Prague culture. She has incorporated numerous creative projects and activities into her curricula like a graffiti-painting trip to the Lennon Wall to allow students the freedom of self-expression at the place that best memorializes it.
“Before this [subcultures]class I viewed many types of graffiti as vandalism,” said Shillington. “But now I understand that many of the pieces on the street have meaning to them.”
Jonssonova is also planning a trip for her students to a queer film festival later this semester with hopes of showcasing another pop culture perspective.
For a woman that epitomizes creativity, Jonssonova has not only accomplished personal achievements, she has taught the value of self-expression to her students and to her children: her son is starting a hip-hop club, and her daughter is a skilled guitarist and dreams of becoming a jazz singer. She hopes to create this same creative inspiration for her students as she has for her children.
“I believe that we are all creative people and everyone has a creative spark,” Jonssonova concluded as she enthusiastically rushed off to teach her next class.
Photo courtesy of Pavla Jonssonova