Fortunately the young Greek Australian community has some amazing members that we should all be proud of, however, in my years of involvement in Greek university clubs there are not many people who come close to Olympia Nelson and the work she is doing.
When we think of what makes a person such a valuable member of a community, we think of contribution, talent but also resilience. Olympia continues to tick all of these boxes across her years.
Olympia studied a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Art History at the University of Melbourne and continued with her honours year, focusing in Italian Renaissance art. Evidently Olympia has a passion for Italian art history however during her university studies, the question of, “where does Greek art history beyond the ancient world, come in and fit alongside these commonly studied art periods?” came up time and time again. A student immersed in Greek Byzantine iconography from young felt the gaping hole in the art history departments she had studied in for years.
With that question in mind and a COVID lockdown providing the perfect opportunity to think over future plans, in 2020 Olympia began to explore her options, the ways in which she can study a passion that had not been tapped into during her previous years of study. Upon researching, Olympia found that there were no supervisors in Greek art at the University of Melbourne available and willing to take on students wanting to study Greek Orthodox Byzantine iconography. Thus began her journey to find a university and supervisor who was willing to take her on. Earlier this year, Olympia, while searching various university websites, discovered Professor Vrasidas Karalis at the University of Sydney, a perfect choice to supervise her for her postgraduate research.
This match has culminated into an in -progress research thesis on the development of style in the Byzantine era, particularly that of the depictions of emotion. Olympia’s exposure and interest in the art world began from birth. The late Polixeni Papapetrou, famous and renowned photographer is Olympia’s mother and her family’s world was an immersion of art, all of whom played various roles in order to contribute to the progression of artistic creativity. Having been the muse of her mother’s work, Olympia had to journey from model to art historian.
Olympia describes this journey as a complex yet almost natural one, whereby in speaking of the work in which she is featured, she often describes the photographed version of herself in third person. This dichotomy of existence, the frozen photographed Olympia and that of the present day, living Olympia, presents a unique perspective that enables a more distinctive entry into the art history world. This process of both existing as the model and the observer/ analyser has often and continues to inform her journey in studying art history.
In the most cyclical development possible, Professor Karalis quite quickly made the connection between Olympia and her family. As a quiet admirer with knowledge of Polixeni Papapetrou’s work, Professor Karalis became the perfect supervisor for Olympia, quickly and beautifully becoming an honorary member of her family.
The loss of Polixeni Papapetrou was a shock to the art world but even more so to the family, the family who knew her as mum, wife, and daughter. The grappling of loss is a complex one and from experience, it is an ever continuous and dynamic process. The resilience that Olympia has displayed is outstanding, to be continuously positioned to face the triumph and loss of her mother, all the while aiming to pave her own path is no easy feat. With Professor Karalis’ prior knowledge of Olympia’s mother and her work, his kindness as well as his passion, this supervisor and student is looking to become a beginning step to beautiful academic work being produced at its finest.
Despite having been born into a family of renowned art world members, art critic for a father and photographer for a mother, Olympia is taking her passion for art into her own hands and is paving a way for herself that is quickly proving that she is fast becoming a deserved renowned art world member herself.