National Museum of Women in the Arts
Sally Potter
September 19 1949 - present
Photograph of Sally Potter, courtesy of Adventure Pictures, London, England
Place of Birth:
British – English
Phonetic Spelling:
SAL-ee PAH-terr
Work Type/Media:
Multimedia (electronic, digital, video, film), Performance Art
Artistic Role(s):
Cinematographer, Director (Film), Director (Performing Arts), Filmmaker, Multimedia Artist, Performance Artist
Feminist Art
Artist's Biography:
Since the 1960s, Sally Potter’s work has encompassed dance, performance, music, theater, and film and challenged notions of gender and identity. Charlotte Sally Potter was born in London in 1949 into an artistic family: her father was a designer and poet, and her mother a musician. Potter began making eight-millimeter films as a young girl and left school at the age of sixteen to pursue filmmaking. She joined the London Film-Makers' Co-operative in the late 1960s where she experimented with short films that demonstrated her interest in cinematic time and space and movement. Potter also studied draughtmanship and composition in a one year foundational course at St Martin’s School of Art in 1967 and pursued a passion for dance in her studies at the London Contemporary Dance School. She went on to co-found the Limited Dance Company with Jack Langsley in 1974 and was a founding member of the dance group Strider. In addition to touring with both dance companies, Potter toured as a lyricist in the Feminist Improvisation Group.

In the mid-1970s, Potter focused her creative efforts on performance theater, a combination of theatrical and imagistic elements informed by modern dance and performance. She collaborated with London-based artist Rose English on such presentations as Berlin, a 1976 costumed production that evolved over the course of several nights in a private house, an ice rink, and a swimming pool. In 1979, Potter’s career entered a new phase with the launch of her 16mm short film Thriller, produced, scripted, directed, and edited by the artist. The film, which wittily retells the story in Puccini’s opera La Bohème from the standpoint of the heroine Mimi, became a cult hit and exposed Potter’s work to a wider audience. The success of the film enabled Potter to direct her first feature film The Gold Diggers in 1983. Made with an all-female cast and crew, the film starred Julie Christie and was shot in black-and-white by Babette Mangolte. Potter’s next feature film was the commercially acclaimed Orlando which won two Academy Award nominations and more than twenty-five international awards. The film, based on Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel, explores gender, sexuality, and the English class system through the 400-year life span of the eternally youthful protagonist Orlando played by Tilda Swinton.

Potter has achieved success with both her experimental works and full feature films, earning her the distinction as one of Britain’s foremost female directors. She resides in London where she is working on a range of projects including her latest venture with the English National Opera as the director of a new production of Carmen opening in fall 2007. In her operatic debut, Potter revives the renowned tale by collaborating with tango star and choreographer Pablo Vernon to incorporate a dance element into the production.

Other Occupation(s):
Choreographer, Composer, Critic, Dancer, Lyricist, Producer, Singer, Writer
Place(s) of Residence:
Where Trained/Schools:
London Contemporary Dance School, London, England (1971-1974) St Martin’s School of Art, London, England (1967)
Related Visual Artists:
collaborated with Rose English collaborated with Babette Mangolte colleague of Rose Finn-Kelcey colleague of Rose Garrard colleague of Peter Greenaway colleague of Derek Jarman colleague of Tina Keane colleague of Sonia Knox
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Interfaith Award, Brisbane International Film Festival, Brisbane, Australia (2005) Best Film Award, Mar del Plata International Film Festival, Buenos Aires, Argentina (1997) Young European Film of the Year, European Film Academy, Berlin, Germany (1993)
Earliest exhibition:
Mounting, Museum of Modern Art Oxford, Oxford, England (1977)
NMWA exhibition(s):
WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution
Artist retrospective(s):