What is it? The Museum of Broken Relationships is a crowd-sourced collection of items from around the world tied together with common threads of love and loss. Items populating the exhibits are accompanied by a brief story from their former owners of how the item mattered in a previous relationship. “Relationship” is loosely defined, including relationships with family and friends, and, in displaying the items and stories of refugees from the Middle East, your country.
Originally a creative art project by Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić in 2006, there are now two permanent locations in Zagreb, Croatia, and Los Angeles, California (with revolving exhibits) . The Museum has such an extensive collection that it also tours around the world. In sharing intimate stories of heartbreak, there is a hope to overcome emotional stress through a creative process, unite people of all backgrounds, and to connect people in a global community.
My trip to the Museum. Before heading on my first solo trip across Croatia, I read a little bit about the Museum of Broken Relationships in my Lonely Planet guide and was struck by the unique concept. I was determined to visit. Zagreb was my last stop in Croatia and my second to last city before I headed home- I arrived sick and exhausted. Actually the only point on my solo journey I actually was alone for, I navigated through the Museum full of my own thoughts. The exhibit really hit home for me.
Items ranged: I saw a stuffed caterpillar with broken off legs, a pair of stripper heels, a guitar, an axe, a positive drug test with the simple caption “He used again.” Items illustrated the dissolution of a one week-long travel romance, of a young love that lasted too long, of a marriage of 25 years. There was immense heterogeneity in the types of items displayed, the origin of the items, and in the nature of the relationships featured. But in all that difference, there was an overwhelming amount of sameness.
The items were organized in such a way that as I was reading one story, I would tear up, a lump forming in my throat. I’d move to the next item and start laughing. The perspectives were unique, raw and moving, and the deep human connection I felt while navigating through the exhibit was almost visceral.
After the stroll through the various rooms in the museum, there is a very cute gift shop with “bad memories” erasers and “break in case of anger” pencils, and a cafe where you can grab a bite to eat. I sat with my beautiful Rifle Paper Co. travel journal, drinking my vanilla roobios tea, and reflected on the experience.
The raw perspectives and crowd-sourced format of the museum reminded of the Sundance Film Festival documentary Life In A Day (trailer; movie), produced by Scott Free Productions and Youtube, and distributed by National Geographic Films.
What we left behind: Refugee stories. This temporary exhibit displayed 13 stories of refugees from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia currently residing in Croatia. I was lucky to have the opportunity to view the exhibit organized by the Croatian Red Cross and the United Nations Refugee Agency, which shared heart wrenching stories of individuals who had to leave their homes and families behind.
Museum of Broken Relationships, Los Angeles. While I was galavanting across Croatia making my way to Zagreb for the museum, a sister exhibit opened in Los Angeles, California. I haven’t been able to visit this one yet, but I urge you to check it out (and report back!). You can listen to a 4 minute NPR coverage of the Los Angeles exhibit and check out the official website here.
Below are some of my favorite stories from my visit to the Zagreb exhibit. Explore some of the virtual exhibits here.
“I am a 70-year-old woman from Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. I visited Zagreb back in 1967 and the city is very close to my heart. When I found out from a local newspaper that there exists the Museum of Broken Relationships, I was sad and happy at the same time. This is a postcard that was inserted through the slit of my door a long time ago by our neighbours’ son. He had been in love with me for three years. Following the old Armenian tradition, his parents came to our home to ask for my hand. My parents refused saying that their son did not deserve me. They left angry and very disappointed. The same evening their son drove his car off a cliff…”
A Galileo thermograph
“A criteria-fulfilling boy might not understand you.”