‘Museum of Broken Relationships’ exhibit comes to Canada

The showcase of artifacts that are left behind when love ends is coming to Toronto

A piece entitled ‘Ethiopian Cotton Scarf’ from Montreal is shown as part of the ‘Museum of Broken Relationships’ are seen at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

Salima Punjani still loves the Ethiopian cotton scarf, despite the heartache woven into its fluorescent yellow fabric.

The gift from her ex had become a symbol of Punjani’s past loves and the pain that followed, and the 32-year-old Montreal graduate student knew she needed to let go of the item in order to unburden herself of the romantic baggage it carried.

Punjani couldn’t fathom who would want such an article of pain, nor was she ready to consign it to the trash heap.

So she decided to donate the scarf to the Museum of Broken Relationships, where it will be displayed alongside other artifacts of heartbreak in a Toronto exhibition opening Saturday.

“This is a perfect place to still honour the memories, but also get the scarf the hell out of my house,” Punjani said.

The Harbourfront Centre marks the 53rd stop in the Museum of Broken Relationships’ worldwide showcase of the mementos and memories that are left behind when love ends, organizers say.

The show will feature highlights from the museum’s permanent collection in Zagreb, Croatia, as well as about 10 new contributions from lovelorn Canadians.

These local donations may not seem like much at first glance, but their stories run the emotional gamut from fury to forgiveness.

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A comb represents a bitter entanglement with a hair-obsessed ex-partner. A hand-drawn treasure map tracks an online romance that took a turn for the worse. A red-eyed toy rabbit evokes the searing glare of strangers witnessing a couple’s public argument.

The first-person testimonials that accompany each of the objects detail not only failed romance, but the passion that preceded it. In this sense, co-founders Olinka Vistica and Drazen Grubisic like to say the museum is about love, but turned “upside-down.”

The trove of once-treasured keepsakes traces its origins back to the Croatian artists’ own breakup in the mid-2000s.

The former couple longed for a place where the sentiments and stories of their years-long relationship could be preserved. And over time, the personal project evolved into a public space where the private grief of heartbreak can be shared with strangers, Vistica said.

“When a relationship is over, there is a remembrance. There are people who can connect with it, empathize, identify with the story,” she said.

“In a way, it stops being your personal experience, but it becomes a human experience.”

All donations made to the museum are exhibited anonymously, and the stories of severed connections can span failed romance, betrayals of friendship or even the death of a loved one.

The Museum of Broken Relationships runs at the Harbourfront Centre from June 29 to Sept. 8.

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

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