Turning Heartbreak into Art

A keyring, an old blue frisbee, a sailor’s cap, and a stiletto shoe. In the Museum of Broken Relationships these seemingly mundane objects all have one thing in common. To someone, they represent heartbreak.

If there’s one emotional pain that unites us all, it’s perhaps knowing what it feels like to lose a person we once loved. A vast collection of donated objects exhibited by the Museum of Broken Relationships attempts to preserve these memories and tell poignant stories about the way we connect and disconnect with others throughout the course of our lives.

It all began in 2006 when couple Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić decided to break up. The film producer and visual artist thought it would be interesting to use their experience as inspiration for an artistic collaboration, and so curated a collection of pieces in Zagreb, Croatia, that would tell the story of their broken relationship.

It was a concept that resonated with many people. And as interest grew, so did the collection. At first, there were additional contributions from Olinka and Dražen’s friends, who were keen to share their own stories. In the years that followed, the exhibition embarked on a world tour travelling to 60 destinations. At every stop, donations from complete strangers flooded in. People wanted to share their experiences of grief and heartbreak, and others wanted to read about it.

Eventually, the collection grew to over 2000 pieces that are today exhibited both physically in permanent museums in Zagreb and Los Angeles, and virtually on the website. The fact that the concept grew from something deeply personal to Olinka and Dražen, to the global phenomenon it is today, tells us something about the common human experience of terminated relationships, and the desire to share.

Some of the donated pieces are humorous (an old toaster alongside the caption “When I moved out, and across the country, I took the toaster. That’ll show you. How are you going to toast anything now?”). Others tell bittersweet tales of love that slipped through the fingers (a sailor’s cap, with the message “After I left Spain, our love lasted for another year. The distance between Frankfurt and Madrid was too big, but wonderful memories remained.”). And some are deeply tragic (a packet of Werther’s Originals with the words “I got these for you, but you died first.”).

The objects are as diverse as the stories that accompany them. From romantic and beautiful, to strange or silly; from superficial, to deeply profound. No matter what category they fall into, we’re compelled to keep reading. Perhaps it’s because the collection manages to capture the essence of something so honest, pure, and universal about the social aspect of human nature. And while the museum seems to offer a cathartic service to those who are bold enough to donate and share their stories, this service extends to those who visit and are inspired to reflect on their own.

If you’d like to see if the exhibition is coming to a city near you anytime soon, or if you want to find out how to turn your own heartbreak into art, check out the Museum of Broken Relationships website.