Sam Roddick was brought up in an Italian household in Littlehampton, Sussex. Diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 14, she left school at 16 and took an apprenticeship with Mara Amats, an artist who specialized in Russian orthodox painting, who introduced her to religious iconography and symbolism.
Following her apprenticeship, Roddick travelled to Brazil to witness a gathering of 600 Amazonian Indians crossing 40 indigenous tribes, who had combined forces to protest against a controversial hydroelectric dam project funded by the World Bank. Now a rebel with a cause – and not yet 18 - Roddick returned to the UK and organised a UK-wide, highly public tour, giving talks to secondary schools and making television appearances on the importance of indigenous rights and the destruction of the rain forest. Transforming herself from a wild firebrand to a formidable spokesperson, Roddick gave talks at the Smithsonian Institute and to universities across the US and Canada. Later, she was eventually employed by the Canadian Brazilian Chamber of Commerce as a tour speaker focusing on corporate social and environmental responsibility and indigenous rights, raising £250,000 after giving an impassioned speech at the Body Shop franchises.
By the time Roddick celebrated her 21st birthday, she had experienced some of the unsettling realities of global economics while working for a Channel 4 documentary, Halting the Fires that took her and the filmmakers across the Amazon, documenting the economic reality of the destruction of the rainforest. After giving an impassioned speech at the university of Illinois, she was identified by the Canadian Development Agency as a potential world youth leader, who enlisted her to work on a research project regarding alternative economic systems in India. Roddick moved to Canada to work with the Environmental Youth Alliance, founding a satirical political youth magazine Cockroach, a publication that galvanized high school students that was eventually banned for its radical content.
By the mid-nineties, Roddick had become increasingly interested in sexual politics, describing a book entitled A History of Whores as a seminal and inspirational calling card. She started working with prostitute rights activists and using her love of photography to explore the power of female sexuality. In 1998, Roddick fell pregnant and gave birth to her daughter, Osha.
In 2001, the inspiration for what would become Roddick’s long-term interest emerged from a personal photography project. An already obsessive photographer, she had recorded images of women as erotic archetypes which led to her founding the groundbreaking and luxurious emporium, Coco Der Mer. Feeling that there was nothing that expressed a feminine sophisticated idea of sexuality or a dialogue regarding the way we relate to sex, Roddick launched Coco Der Mer as an ethical erotic lifestyle business which sold luxury lingerie, sex toys, books and erotic art. Roddick designed and commissioned the majority of the products, many of them inspired by various art moments.
Roddick created a brand with a high-principled ethos, sourcing ethical products and materials and partnering with charities such as Brook, a sexual health charity for the under-25s. Coco Der Mer became Roddick’s platform to promote issues around consent, sexual empowerment and feminism, a place where an intelligent dialogue could exist about what is permissible. In 2007, she curated and co-created the Journey with Emma Thompson, a traveling art installation exploring female trafficking that exhibited in London (2007), Vienna (2008), New York (2009), Madrid (2009) and The Hague (2010). For the exhibition, seven shipping containers were each given to an artist to create installations to capture the experience of a trafficked woman. Participating artists included Anish Kapoor, Olivier award-winning playwright Simon Stephens, Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson, Roddick herself and Michael Howells, the set designer of The Cook, The Thief His Wife as well as many other notable artists and practitioners.
While Roddick has carved out a reputation as a committed activist and feminist, she has also been engaged as a cultural contributor on panels for the ICA, British Museum, the British Library and Guardian debates, as well as being a regular speaker at the Wow festival and TED.
In 2011, Roddick sold the company – she decided to return to her first love of art and dedicate herself to what she has termed as a visual philosophy. Inspired by the sexual psychology of Carlo Mollino’s ‘dark mystery’, her forthcoming art project will be held at the Michael Hoppen Gallery in March 2015. Responsible for spearheading the transformation of the erotic market, Roddick returned to her passion for photography as a medium through which she could explore some of the questions regarding our collective cultural relationship to sex.
Roddick believes that our social relationship to sex is at crisis point. She explains, “Sex has been sold into consumerism and there is a massive gap between what we individually experience sexually and how the media represents it. We need to start to envision how a healthy sexual society behaves. Sexual violence is on the increase and that will only lead to more misery. Ninety-nine per cent of the sex industry doesn’t engage in dialogue or discussion, it just pushes us to consume. Roddick explains, “My project has largely been about Carlo Mollino’s sexual state and shame. Objectification and shame are the foundations of our cultural relationship to sex. Through sexual compassion, we can learn about hidden aspects of ourselves and each other - and with the aspiration to discovering our own sexual happiness - we can be more whole as society and make more loving decisions that affect all.”