How the trash from your messy breakup becomes art

How the trash from your messy breakup becomes art

Joshua Bruce Allen
January 18, 2017

The Museum of Broken Relationships, Istanbul

Everyone with an interest in literary Istanbul knows Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence, which exhibits the remains of character Kemal’s kleptomaniac relationship with the young Füsun. Thankfully, these displays of labeled cigarette butts, clothes, edibles, and photos are the document of a fictional affair. If the objects had really been collected by Kemal, rather than Pamuk, then it would be a more uncanny experience. But now Croatia’s Museum of Broken Relationships is bringing real objects from breakups across the world to an exhibition in Istanbul.

The Museum of Broken Relationships is the child of Croatian artists Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić, who first suggested the idea as a joke at the end of their own relationship. The joke became a therapeutic reality, and they started receiving objects from other breakups as well. Their first permanent location opened in Zagreb in 2010, followed by a Los Angeles location in 2016. The traveling museum first visited Istanbul back in 2010, and this year it will be at İstinyePark from February 3-19. If you didn’t have plans for Valentine’s Day, you do now.

Some of the objects are just plain funny – like underwear made from candy beads – while others are more poignant and disturbing. Although many are mass-produced items, it is the people behind them that make them unique. These stories are explained by texts of different lengths attached to the objects.

The Museum of Broken Relationships, Istanbul

The story of the object called “An ex-axe” is an example of dark comedy. The owner of the object went abroad for a few weeks and came back to find that his or her girlfriend had begun seeing someone else. When the girlfriend went on holiday, the spurned lover hacked one piece of her furniture to pieces every day and left the broken wood in her room. The axe owner writes that this symbolic revenge helped dull the pain of the breakup.

The Museum of Broken Relationships, Istanbul

This can of faux-Spanish “love incense” has a very simple text attached to it: “Doesn’t work.” Presumably the relationship in question also had deeper problems than ineffective incense.

The idea of the museum is partly therapeutic, bringing these objects into the open so that their owners can resolve their loss into something socially useful. Visitors to the exhibition will think of the objects that they have gained or left behind in past relationships and perhaps find a panacea in the universality of heartbreak.

The museum’s traveling exhibitions encourage donations from people in the local area. Istanbulites can send their objects and stories through the Museum of Broken Relationships' website before January 23.