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Break-Ups

The Women Making Art from Mementos of Heartbreak

In "I Used to Love Us," nine artists showcase work about ordinary household objects that remind them of their ex-lovers.

Sara David

Sara David

At the Bishop art gallery in Brooklyn, nine women put their broken hearts on display. "I Used to Love Us" is a pop-up exhibit curated by ILY Magazine that on December 1 and 2 showcased the work of artists based on household items that remind them of their ex-lovers.

"Have you ever looked around your apartment and an ordinary household object catches your eye?" curator and ILY founder Erika Ramirez asks. "All of a sudden you're no longer alone. You're in the midst of a memory with a past lover."

From old photographs to half-empty glasses of water, the artists of "I Used to Love Us" tell Broadly about their everyday objects haunted by the ghost of love.

"Double N" by Tabban Soleimani

Soleimani is a 28-year-old Toronto-based artist who was born in Tehran, Iran whose piece description reads: "Remember when I sat on the floor by my bed and you blow-dried my hair?"

"I was in a fatal car accident with him where I sustained many injuries, one of them a right clavicle fracture," she explains to Broadly. "This made me very dependent on others for a long time. I had trouble with my daily routine. I lost independence. Simple things would always trigger me, like the blow-dryer. Once, after I showered, I sat on my little rug on the floor while he blow-fried my hair. This act was out of love. I guess we were being cute, you know? It wasn't out of necessity. It wasn't because I couldn't hold the blow-dryer."

"The blow-dryer reminds me of him from time to time, but it mostly reflects how far I've come with my independence."

Jinni J

Jinni J is a photographer and writer born and based in Texas. She tells Broadly that her piece is about the ups and downs of her current seven year relationship and "comparing your relationship to itself in different phases."

Her piece description reads: "Evidence of feeling put onto and inside of bags."

D'ana of COVL, D'ana Nunez

D'ana Nunez is a Florida-born digital artist based in New York. She tells Broadly that her piece is inspired by a nine-month relationship with an ex, immortalizing the locker where they met.

"For a year, they shared this locker. Then one day, he broke up with her through a text message," her description reads. "Now this locker represents a tiring moment of heartbreak all bundled up in a 5' piece of gauge steel. Sorted through moments of organized mess, a relationship that was made to last."

"Why are boys so immature at this age?"

Alycea Tinoyan

Alycea Tinoyan is a 24-year-old illustrator and designer whose piece is about a relationship she was in for six years.

"The object I decided to depict is a water glass. Usually it's the ones that are partially filled that give me a sense of unease, especially when it's in the bedroom," she tells Broadly. "Before the break-up, the object didn't hold much significance but it was always present in the spaces he inhabited. I guess it was more surprising how often he drank water, how many cups he would drink from and how drinking water right after sex was a habit for him. As the relationship fell apart and the only remaining thread was our relations in the bedroom, I was fixated on those half-empty glasses. They littered the space around the bed sometimes and I began to feel like something that was also regularly consumed but never finished off. A cup of water doesn't trigger anything anymore, but I still don't keep one by the bedside."

"Sour Grapefruit" by Jane Claire Hervey

Jane Claire Hervey is a 24-year-old performance artist and writer who was born and raised in Texas.

"In this particular installation, I chose nine poems written at the beginning, middle, and end stages of my relationship with my ex (each color block represents different stage)," she tells Broadly. "The writing's all about vivid memories of our time together, triggered by objects, spaces, and experiences in my current life. I guess that's the thing about these nine poems, they're inspired by everything and they literally haunt me."

"Going to CVS reminds me of him. Walking reminds me of him. Eating protein bars reminds me of him. Playing video games reminds me of him," she continues. "It's aggravating to have these frequent flashbacks to our relationship, though, because I had to force him out of my life. We were so intense in this childish, manic, yet relaxed way, and our relationship became toxic quickly. He was sweet, caring, manipulative, controlling, appealing, repulsive, daring, reserved, creative, unoriginal—all at once. Just as human as it gets, and at the time, I was, too. It's been three years, and I'm still carrying these unwelcome memories, so I'm not sure when/if it'll go away. When I say these things, it kind of freaks me out, because I can feel that I still have compassion for him, but simultaneously don't want anything to do with him. The brain's a strange thing."

"Dear Ruksi" by Rukmini Poddar

Rukmini Poddar is a 25-year-old illustrator and graphic designer who was born in California and is now based in New York.

"I began to seriously illustrate when I entered my relationship about a year and a half ago. I found a way to illustrate and explore my own obscure emotions by drawing them every single day for 100 days. I did that as a way to better understand my feelings, and to better navigate my relationship with my ex," she tells Broadly. "However, flash forward over 6 months later to when we separated ways, and I found myself inspired in a different way."

"My heavy heart and the pain I felt inspired me to ask others to share their own pain with me. I didn't want to think about my problems, so I sent an open invitation out to all I knew and asked them to send me emotions they feel, yet do not know how to articulate and understand," Poddar continues. "That's what I call an 'obscure emotion.' To my surprise, I got submissions from all kinds of people with beautiful stories and heart breaking stories. I began to draw other people's stories and emotions and eventually started a new illustration project called Dear Ruksi. Since last December, I've drawn over 65 different emotions sent by people all over the world."

"Untitled Memory" by Haylee Anne

Haylee Anne is a 27-year-old mixed media artist who was born in New York and is now based in Atlanta. She tells Broadly that her piece was inspired by a relationship with an ex that lasted two years.

"There are many reasons why we ended our relationship," she tells Broadly. "All reasons that appear normal on paper. But, if I am being completely honest, our relationship was over when we lost the bed. This was our place for binge-watching, talking, fighting, sex, love-making, the swapping back and forth. This intimacy was a vital chord in how we spoke to each other, both in love, anger, and primal necessity. When my body shut down and could no longer provide this communication, the sheets grew stiff."

"It's been almost four years since Nick and I broke up," she added. "I no longer have romantic feelings for him; in fact, he is currently dating someone that is likely much better suited for him. But it remains that, even all this time later, our relationship was the cornerstone of a significant time in my life, of which I am still learning to forgive. Coming from a fractured family background, he's the first person I trusted with the idea of marriage. His support lifted me through some of the hardest, stupidest decisions of my early 20s. His emotional attitude opened within me new channels of patience and co-dependence."

"I have not loved like this since. I have never been able to match our passion. And so when I see the sheets, when I look at images I made of our old home, I'm flooded with what I lost, and have yet to regain."

"Love Marks: Tattoos Deeper Than Ink" by Stacy-Ann Ellis

Stacy-Ann Ellis is a 27-year-old writer and photographer who was born and raised in New York. Her project is "a photo series exploring the tattoos seven people got for/after/inspired by love," she tells Broadly.

"Most of the men and women photographed for the series inked themselves for (or in spite of) romantic love, while others highlighted love of family, love of self, and love of love itself," she explains. "What I learned from photographing these people and hearing their stories was that permanent reminders aren't all bad. They serve as wells of emotions, brimming with tokens of what was once beautiful, what might still be possible, what never needed to be and that love, regardless of where or who it comes from, is indeed constant."

Tania Peralta

Tania Peralta is a 24-year-old writer who was born in Honduras and is now based in Toronto.

"My piece is about my unhealthy days or moments when I obsess over the 'us' we used to be," she tells Broadly. "It's about accepting that pain and trauma and evolving into something else. It's about loving someone still but falling out of love with the idea of being in love. Two very different things. It's about progressing, respecting and caring for each other in ways that are not often what either of us want but that are still progression respect and care. It's about accepting the science behind trauma and resent[ment]. The actual literal science of remembering something that used to be."