Skip to main content

ASU professor's research on display at Sky Harbor Airport

A sign talking about the portrait of Hugh Downs School Professor Olga I. Davis on display at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

May 08, 2019

Professor Olga I. Davis, a performance studies and health communication scholar at Arizona State University's Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, has been awarded the 2019 Gary S. Krahenbuhl Difference Maker Award from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

However, this was not the first time Davis has been singled out for her research to improve the health and well being of ethnically and racially diverse populations in the community.     

Davis was also honored by Brazilian artist Sebastiao Pereira when he created a portrait of her after they met several years ago.

Her portrait is part of a collection he created, "(un) Familiar Faces," that now is on display at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport in the newly renovated John S. McCain Terminal, formerly Terminal 3.   

“They are portraits of people I know,” Pereira said. “One is a chef and cooks for seniors. Another is a caregiver in a nursing home. Another is a self-taught engineer. They are college professors and high school teachers. They are fellow artists and former students. They are my heroes. They are my friends. I love to see them, side by side, sharing the same wall space.”

For the past decade, Pereira has been creating large-scale portraits of exceptional people with little more than paper, scissors and glue. Arranged in a mosaic fashion, his portraits are composed with paper cut and torn from Art in America magazines and color samples from a home improvement store.

Under the portrait of Davis, Pereira wrote, “Olga is deeply involved in promoting health among the African American community in Arizona. She works with the Phoenix-based coalition called 'Blacks Against Breast Cancer' to educate the public about prevention, diagnosis and screening. She wrote a narrative play called 'The Journey: Living Cancer Out Loud' based on interviews of survivors, caregivers and those currently experiencing breast cancer.”

Olga I. Davis

Davis is also involved in the African American Cardiovascular Disease Health Literacy Demonstration Project, which puts an emphasis on prevention and health literacy through culturally grounded community efforts for African American men in the greater Phoenix area.

At the direction of Davis, and in conjunction with the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center, participating barbershops and hair centers have been supplied with blood-pressure monitors — and training — to give readings to their customers, as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, prostate cancer and diabetes claim the lives of African American men in record numbers. 

Davis says she is honored to be called “a friend” and “a hero” by Pereira. She says the lyrics of a hymn, which was an inspiration to Martin Luther King Jr., articulate her thoughts perfectly: “If I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can help somebody with a word or song, if I can help somebody from choosing wrong, then my living will not be in vain!”

The Phoenix Airport Museum manages the art collection, exhibition program and Aviation History Collection to showcase Arizona’s unique artistic and cultural heritage. 

Portraits by Brazilian artist Sebastiao Pereira, including ASU Professor Olga I. Davis, third from the right, on display at Sky Harbor Airport.