Mudgirls Manifesto - An interview with the collective

by: Sara on 05/25/2018

The Mudgirls are building a revolution, and you're invited! The Mudgirls is an all-women's natural building collective from coastal British Columbia. They build houses and offer workshop that empower people to take back the right to provide themselves with shelter.

We have just released their book Mudgirls Manifesto: Handbuilt Homes, Handcrafted Lives and now you too can share in the story of these rebel women who beyond offering alternative building practices, offer alternatives to deeply entrenched social inequalities through self-governance and community-building, modeling a different kind of activism. Below is an interview with the Mudgirls, including the winning question from our book giveaway winner. (Check out our Facebook and Instagram for upcoming contests.

Tell us why you decided to write a book about your experiences—and pass on your knowledge to others?

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Building the revolution one bucket at a time!

The book is a few things—it’s a way to celebrate 10 years together, but we also realized we had something a bit different going on than what we saw in other natural building books. We realized had something to offer. We’ve been together for 10 years—that milestone made us think about what it was about our collective that has kept us together. It can be hard to keep social change movements alive in the world.

It can feel like a fight and a slog, it can feel depleting. Activists get burned out. We realized that we had something to offer not only in terms of spreading awareness of natural building techniques but also in terms of organizing. Looking around, it’s clear that the ability to organize is crucial in the struggle against injustice. 

One of the tenets of the Mudgirls is to deconstruct capitalism, patriarchy, and inequality through your workshops, which function as both practical (learning to build a house or start a collective) and restorative (empowering women and people from low-income communities). Could you tell us how mud became the center of this movement?

Mud is abundant, cheap and easy to use. The materials we use in our buildings has an ability to be utilised in many different, creative ways. There are no cookie cutter cob houses. It can’t be mass produced, economically bagged, shipped... Mud has a sculptable, user-friendly way to it that transfers easily into the real world.

You do not need to attend years of schooling or buy expensive tools to build your first earth oven or cob wall. When we began over a decade ago the rules of how to build with earth were still being reinvented in our part of the world. This created a situation where there were not preconceived rules that we had to follow. This aspect suited us well as we came at this with rebellious attitude.

We were low income ourselves; some of us had small children that required close proximity to their mothers for sustenance. As we decided that being female was a definitive part of who we are, we had to make adjustments to the standard patriarchal power over ways of working a building site that took into account the need for built-in childcare, good communication tools and lots of opportunities to enjoy our work. The fact that what we were working with was the earth itself really seemed to fit in with the female, land-based solution we were trying to achieve.

In the book, you talk about “valuing inexperience.” What does this mean, and how have you found value in what is generally considered a negative trait?

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Mudgirl hammers in a spike on a roundwood structure

In the beginning our collective was made up of a whole lot of people who had very little building experience. I think we chose to value that for a few reasons. The first and foremost being we had no choice in the matter. It was true, we had a lot to learn and open minds have been known to give an advantage over rigid, preconceived notions about how things should work. We believed real innovation was possible with our diverse backgrounds all coming together for a common goal. Inexperience does not mean you are incapable of completing a task; it just means you have to be shown how to do something properly, be given the basic information and the common goal.

The end result is often something to be proud of because in that thing created there lies so much knowledge gained. Becoming a more capable human being and having desirable skills creates a sense of value within oneself that sends ripples of confidence into the world. 

And the winning question from our book giveaway contest...As you envision the future of radical housing, how can changing the way we build our homes impact the ways we build our communities? 

When we change the way in which we build our homes, and prioritise using natural, and recyclable materials we add the element of approach-ability to the method of construction. There are fewer experts out there that know everything about natural building, and there are so many DIY books on how to build homes out of cob, straw and many other sustainable systems. In our experience this can make people curious, interested in their neighbours project. Information is often freely shared due to the excitement of the owner builder themselves, it becomes contagious and relationships are formed over time. Natural buildings can be labour intensive as the processing of what will become your walls often happens on site, compared to conventional building where all processing happens elsewhere. Requiring all that labour means acquiring a community!

 

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