Please enable JavaScript in your browser.

Fly, aka Elen Orr, is a graphic artist and squatter who resides in the Lower East Side. Her arrival in the neighborhood coincided with the burgeoning 1980s squatting movement in which she established herself an artistic force by reproducing the essence of the community in her work. Fly’s art often explores the intersections of squat, punk, and feminist communities. She was a fixture at ABC No Rio and participated in the World War 3 Illustrated collective. The Minneapolis Institute of Art holds an impressive array of Fly’s work in the Fly Zine Archive, which consists of roughly two thousand objects produced over a thirty-five year period.

The collage prints on display below are a selection from the Fly Prints Collection at the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space. They feature nine buildings which were part of the larger network of squats in the Lower East Side which, according to some estimates, totaled thirty-two buildings.

Widespread squatting emerged in response to spatial deconcentration which decimated the community’s physical and social infrastructure. In the 1970s, the federal government funded the development of urban homesteading organizations which promoted tenant rehabilitation and eventual control of city owned buildings. However, the exclusive nature of the homesteading programs, the compounding growth of the unhoused population, and the erstwhile theft of viable housing options by the city led others to create alternatives like squats.

In the mid 1980s a movement coalesced in which squatting a building—rather than seeking government funded homesteading projects—became a form of political action that protested the exploitative realities of housing conditions in the neighborhood. The squatters fought for two decades to secure claims to their homes. At its most violent, this fight led to building fires, riots, and even weaponized human excrement. But this story also reveals a quest for sustainability and equity in housing alternatives defined by companionship, creativity, and community resilience.

In 2002, eleven of the remaining squats inked a deal with the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB) which allowed residents to secured legal ownership of the buildings in exchange for one dollar and the value of the sweat equity they invested in the rehabilitation of the structures they squatted.

A selection of buildings that made up the squat network are memorialized through Fly’s art on display below. The buildings evicted before the 2002 deal are indicated by Fly’s use of “RIP” in the title of the work. The former squats that remain as part of the deal with UHAB are now considered Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC) Co-Ops.

Selections from the Fly Prints Collection at MoRUS

To view additional collections available at MoRUS, visit our collections page.