Love gone wrong

Love gone wrong

Love gone wrong

The long and short of the unique exhibition, The Museum of Broken Relationships, is that it highlights the fragile nature of human relationships. Varshini Murali writes...

When film producer Olinka Vistica and sculptor Drazen Grubisic ended their four-year relationship, they realised that they had accumulated quite a few tokens representative of their time together — mementos of past love; simple everyday objects riddled with meaning only perceptible to its owner(s).

The two ex-lovers made the most of their broken partnership: Vistica and Grubisic pooled together their objects of affection, invited friends to donate some artefacts of their own failed relationships, and created an interactive art project that had the potential to connect with audiences through the language of lost love.

What began as a travelling exhibit, titled The Museum of Broken Relationships, found an overwhelming response. Having travelled the world, collecting cast-off memories in the form of letters, keys and other such forget-me-nots, the museum finally made its home in Zagreb, Croatia, in 2010.

A live museum, its exhibits speak of everyday occurrences and connect with every visitor who stops by — possibly intrigued by its unique theme — as it relates to a topic of universal aspiration: love. And so, there I was on Valentine’s Day, glancing at each cast-off that formed part of the  display at Amsterdam’s Oude Kerk, all the while clutching on to my red Valentine flower as I read the sad yet powerful stories associated with each object. Stories that many of us have been through or heard of, for sure.

Objects of a kind

At first, I came across a shard of porcelain. Broken away from a saucer. This saucer stood as a form of reward for a man who went in search of a “grandfather he never knew.” And then a tear container that held tears shed at the end of a four-year relationship. Sent in from Berlin, Germany, the accompanying note said, “I intended to send her these tears as a sign of my deep pain. Until today, I kept the container with me!”

An infatuation that found its basis in art: I was looking at a sculpture of a head. Marking the end of a three-year relationship, the note alongside read, “Both a beautiful and painful relationship, which showed me that just infatuation alone is not sufficient for a long-term relationship.” Unable to look at the sculpture, which remained at the base of her cupboard, without being reminded of the painful end of the relationship, the sculpture found its eventual place at the museum — “I don’t want to wrong its creator by destroying it or throwing it away.”

A slice of watermelon sent in from Macedonia. It stood for the illusion of love and the realisation that once the illusion is gone and there is no more summer left to enjoy real watermelon, “parallel lines just do not meet.”

A plastic Mary Holy Water bottle. A relationship that began in the summer of 1988. “He was from Peru, discovering Europe by train. We met at the Buddha Disco.” Two months later, all she was left with was a goodbye note and a plastic Mary statue, which he had brought from Peru in the hope of meeting new love. Little did he know that she had opened his bag and seen a bag full of such bottles.

A green silk sari sent in from Austria. A trip to India that was to be made together. A misplaced gift contrary to her tastes. Speaking of her four-and-a-half-year on-again-off-again relationship, she asked, “Did this guy not see who I was and what made me happy?” She never got a clear answer. But she did find out that the silk was actually cheap synthetic.

Nasal spray from Turkey: “I could not go to sleep because of his snoring. Now, I can’t go to sleep because of the pain of heartbreak.”

A cell phone from Croatia: “He gave me his cell phone so I couldn’t call him anymore.” Another from Schiedam, the Netherlands — “When my husband died, everything was falling apart. Including my phone.”

A Frisbee from Belgrade: An ex-boyfriend’s second anniversary gift to his girl. “The moral was obviously that he should be smacked with it across his face the next time he gets such a fantastic idea.”

A piece of paper with the dimensions for a fence: “I have filled volumes... blackened pages with bad poetry, love letters and an unfinished novel. These are the only words she ever wrote to me.”

Hormones for ICSI treatment: “By donating part of the hormones, I hope to break the taboo regarding unfulfilled motherhood and medical fertility treatments... I hope it will help me move on with my life.”

XTC pills that a once-upon-a-time couple dealt in. A sweater of indecision. Brain scans that reflected upon a troubled period. A mother’s suicide note. A diary that claimed to “change your life.” Guitar strings to denote a no-strings-attached set up. A wedding ring. A voodoo doll. One half of a double-sided playing card. All symbols of a love gone south.

A simple act of letting go — be it out of rage, revenge or otherwise — brought together a handful of seemingly banal objects, made all the more powerful with an engaging backstory. Every article displayed here had a varied story to tell. A story of both pleasure and pain, reflected through ordinary objects that were once witness to happier times in this roller coaster ride called romance. While each of the items and the accompanying stories highlighted the fragile nature of human relationships and the various historical and social issues intrinsic to cultural differences, the project also acted as a form of release for the donors. A final act of closure, perhaps.


By the end of it, it felt like I had absorbed a lot of exorcised negative energy. My final exhibit was a giant red flower. Much like my own, which, by then, was partly crushed owing to the tight grip with which I had soaked all these stories in. I found myself soothed by the vibrancy of its colour. And the message that followed, “We met exactly at the right time and I have no regrets about this relationship. I am glad.” I decided to stop right at that moment. I took a look at my calm church surroundings, lit a candle in prayer, took a bite out of the chocolate in my bag, and left while my day was still bittersweet.