Meet Ghislaine Wood, the art historian who is also Godmother to Viking Fjorgyn. Credit: Piers Macdonald Photography

‘Ancient Egypt still speaks to us today'

Author: Vicky Mayer

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Ghislaine Wood is Deputy Director of the Sainsbury Centre. She is also a Viking godmother – and here she reveals the inspiration behind Viking-sponsored new show Visions of Ancient Egypt.

Tell us about the new Visions of Ancient Egypt Supported by Viking exhibition...
This year marks two major anniversaries in the history of discovery of Ancient Egypt, and this exhibition will introduce new perspectives and a wealth of amazing works of art to the public for the first time.

At the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich we are marking 100 years since the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, and 200 years since the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics. Both events engraved Ancient Egypt on the popular imagination, and we want to show how this great culture has continued to inspire other artists and designers across time.

Why is the appeal of Ancient Egypt so enduring?
Right from the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, Ancient Egypt has helped to shape our notions of pleasure, escape, entertainment and consumption. We still associate Egypt with awe-inspiring beauty, and Egyptian influences continue to ripple through our contemporary fashion, architecture and design.

The new Viking Osiris, which will sail a 12-day 'Pharaohs & Pyramids' itinerary on the Nile. Credit: Viking

How do you think Ancient Egypt has shaped our cultural imagination?
From Cleopatra to the curse of the mummy, Egypt has inspired countless writers, film-makers and artists. Novelists such as Agatha Christie used Ancient Egypt as a background for modern murder mysteries, while the film industry has endlessly mined Egypt for themes and stories, from biblical epics to horror films.

Ancient Egypt is firmly embedded in the global consciousness but has also come to represent different things to different people – for instance, Tutankhamun become a symbol for Egyptian nationalism and independence in the 1920s.

What has been the biggest thrill in putting this exhibition together?
For the first time we are bringing together international contemporary artists who offer a powerful critique of traditional Western versions of Ancient Egypt. Famous images such as the bust of Nefertiti continue to be re-imagined to highlight contemporary issues of race and identity, and we are really excited to be acquiring Awol Erizku’s striking Nefertiti (Black Power) for the exhibition. It’s an image that reinterprets the enduring beauty of this great queen for a new generation.

Contemporary works on show include Nerfertiti (Black Power) by Awol Erizku. Credit: The Artist, Courtesy Ben Brown Fine Arts

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What does it feel like to be a Viking godmother?
I was honoured to be invited to become godmother to Viking’s new Longship, Viking Fjorgyn. I have admired their ships for a long time and I was thrilled to work closely with them a few years ago on my exhibition Ocean Liners: Speed and Style at the V&A. Viking supported that, and now we are working together again on Visions of Ancient Egypt.

I’ve had the opportunity to immerse myself in the world of Viking over the years, and I’ve experienced their rich cultural programme so I know guests on Viking Fjorgyn have many fascinating experiences to look forward to.

Having worked in France and curated exhibitions such as the V&A’s Art Deco show, I’m so delighted that Viking Fjorgyn sails on the Seine and docks right in the heart of Paris – a city that is very close to my heart and which I take great joy in exploring.

Tell us one of your favourite memories of sailing aboard a Viking ship...
I was delighted to sail on the inaugural voyage of the new ocean ship Viking Venus in the summer of 2021. The voyage was an eight-day round trip from Portsmouth, and enjoying magnificent views of British shores from the sea gave me a completely different perspective on these islands, which I loved. Now top of my wish-list is to sail along the Nile on Viking Osiris.

Visions of Ancient Egypt Supported by Viking runs from September 3, 2022 to 1 January 1, 2023 at the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich. Find out more at and

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About Vicky Mayer

Vicky began her career working on young women’s magazines before moving on to TV and entertainment titles. Her passion, though, has always been travel, so as Editor of World of Cruising, she combines her love of magazines with the chance to shout about cruise holidays around the world.