When breakups become ART

Photo courtesy of: Ana Opalic

by Mireia Prats Llivina

Walking along the streets of the Upper Town in Zagreb (Croatia) we can find an extremely unusual museum: The Museum of Broken Relationships. Founded in 2006 by Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić, the exhibition displays a wide variety of objects donated by people from all around the world, which have one thing in common: they symbolise a relationship that came to an end. Each one comes with a board detailing its title, country of origin, the duration of the relationship and the story related to it. While some people chose to tell their break-up story in several paragraphs, others condensed it in a few sentences or even in just one word.

Certainly, the museum stands out for its originality and that is why it received the Kenneth Hudson Award in 2011 as the most innovative museum within the European Museum Awards ceremony. The exhibition definitely comes alive thanks to the stories displayed in it, which are all experiences of ordinary people, like you or like me. Therefore, the visitors can feel really close to the stories and easily empathise with the narrators.

As the museum aims to build a collective emotional history, everyone can contribute to the exhibition. If you feel like sharing one of your experiences and donating an object, which symbolises a broken relationship you can do it on the website of the museum.

Photo: Ana Opalic

Needless to say, the objects and stories are displayed anonymously, so there is no need to worry about privacy. Furthermore, as it is stated on the website, there is total freedom regarding the object: it could be a letter, a t-shirt, an e-mail, etc. Otherwise, if you would like to submit your story and contribute to the virtual online collection, you can do so as well. Indeed, writing can be an excellent therapeutic exercise to help you get painful emotions off your chest.

Due to the growing size of the physical collection, only a 15% is exhibited every year. Although the main permanent exhibition remains in Zagreb, the objects are constantly travelling around the world in temporary exhibitions: Denmark, the United States, Mexico, Argentina, Taiwan, France, South Africa… and more destinations to come.

The United Kingdom has already hosted three exhibitions: the latest took place in London during the summer of 2014. Currently there are temporary exhibitions in Heidelberg (Germany) and Istanbul (Turkey), so if you happen to be close you should not miss the opportunity. Furthermore, since 2016 the museum has another permanent location: Los Angeles (USA), founded by the American lawyer John B. Quinn.

Indeed, the objects become precious relics: a physical evidence of an extinguished love. Throughout the exhibition, one can find objects which refer to break-ups during childhood, adolescence or adulthood. Surprisingly, not only are there stories related to romantic relationships but also heart-breaking family relationships that were sadly torn apart by death or suicide.

As they walk through the museum, the visitors go through a bittersweet emotional journey through highly intimate stories from all over the world. As if reading a book, they can let their imagination go wild and travel through time and space, while trying to put themselves in the narrator’s shoes.

Photo: Ana Opalic

One of the objects that stroke me the most when I visited the museum in Zagreb was a suicide note from a woman to her son. Amongst the objects one can also find an axe that a woman used to express her anger by destroying furniture which belonged to her ex, a toaster, a plush Snoopy or a gingerbread cookie.

Undeniably, it is hard to accept that such a beautiful thing as love can ever come to an end and be reduced to ashes, but I guess it is how life works. People come and go, and some of them change us forever. The Museum of Broken Relationships is built of stories: each one is special in its own way, but in the end, not so different from the others. It is a museum in constant evolution and renewal, just as life, that makes us remember that we are not alone because we all have gone through painful experiences. After all, love is a magnetic force that brings people together, but can also bring them apart, because not all love stories last forever.


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