Magazine Review #8: Boat Magazine, Issue 1


Boat Studio, a small creative firm based in London, packed up their office and moved to Sarajevo for a month to make a magazine. The idea: to get people to take notice of forgotten cities around the world and to update people’s views of these places. And thus, Boat Magazine was born.

The first issue is a thing of beauty—the kind of thick paper, deep color, and incredible photography that reminded me why I’ve always been so drawn to the tangibility of printed matter. Not only am I compelled to read this magazine because of its design; I am fascinated by the bold concept of moving around to different cities twice a year to produce a magazine.

The war in the Balkans ended in 1996, and editor Erin Spears writes in her introduction, “the media have left and haven’t returned, leaving the images and ideas we have in our heads of Sarajevo dated, war-torn, and depressing.” There are dozens of other cities for which this is true, but Sarajevo is a classic example. Nearly every movie or book written about Sarajevo in the past decade has been about the war. It’s impossible not to think of the city as a bombed out shell. Boat Magazine is trying to change that.

This first issue includes contributions from American and European artists and writers, as well as a number of Bosnians, but each story is focused on a specific, intensely local aspect of Sarajevo. The first interview is with Lamija Hadžiosmanović, the author of Bosnian Cook, a beautiful cookbook. Spears writes, “While planning our magazine about Sarajevo, I thought about what elements of a culture are universally important. What ingredients of a place do people always comment on, ask about, or compare to their native version? Those things had to be represented and food was at the top of the list.”

Hadžiosmanović, a professor of literature, talks about how the cookbook came about and why she wanted to collect her family recipes into a book. For her, the cookbook was a way to pull people together; a book for Bosnians, not Bosnian Muslims: “You recognize people by what they eat. Food is very important to us, it’s our heritage,” she said. “Though recipes differ a little between people groups, they are very similar. You cannot say this book is just for Bosnian Muslims because I have made it for everyone. ” The biggest problem with the cookbook: measurements. “We cook with our hands so I had to convert it to real measurements so people can recreate it. In Bosnia we say “just enough flour” or “just enough sugar.” You can’t make a cookbook like that!”

There is a photo essay by Sarajevo-based photographer Jasmin Brutus called “The Others.” He writes, “In Bosnia and Herzegovina you can be one of four things: Serb, Croat, Bosniak, or “The Others.” I belong to The Others. The Others are Jews, Roma, Germans, Poles, Eskimos (Yes. Eskimos.). They may have lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina for their whole life, speak the local language as a mother tongue, practice traditional customs, but because of a pointless bureaucratic mechanism they are only recognized as “The Others,” and as such they do not have equal rights.” The photo essay includes powerful images that Brutus took in and around Sarajevo, documenting the lives of some of the Roma people in the city.

Another amazing photo essay, by Italian-born Lara Ciarabellini, documents the train that goes between Sarajevo and Belgrade. “It explores the identity of the Balkans and acts as a homage to Marshal Tito who defined the construction of railways in Yugoslavia as a symbol of “brotherhood and unity.” On this train journey, only recently reopened after the war, you cross three countries divided by their recent past yet united by their Slavic origins and complicated history. Together they wrestle with the uncertainty of the future and their common desire to avoid isolation and abandonment.”

There is an article about a local balloon-seller, and one about the Oscar-winning director, Danis Tanović. Tanović directed No Man’s Land, which won the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award in 2002. In one of the more unusual articles, Bernie Gardner, in an effort to “unearth homegrown sounds, the music of the markets and the streets, to find new sounds from traditional instruments, younger vocalists singing old folk songs and the new generation discovering punk,” stumbles upon the world’s biggest boy band. Known as The Twenty (or Dvadesetorica in Bosnian), it is a band of twenty men, mostly in their thirties, who have been together for nearly two decades. There is even an article about snowboarding in Sarajevo—certainly a far cry from bombs and bullets.

This magazine is exciting because it feels unlike any other magazine I’ve ever read. In her introduction, Spears writes, “As writers, designers, incessant travelers and lovers of magazines, the in-the-flesh-paper-between-my-fingers-smell-of-in-my-nose type magazines, we couldn’t think of a better project. We pulled together the most talented people we know: writers, photographers, illustrators, musicians… gave them a blank canvas, and set them loose on the streets of Sarajevo.” My perception of Sarajevo has been changed, just as my perception of what can be achieved by a magazine has changed. This is the best magazine I have read in a long time—one of the most creative, beautiful, and engaging things to ever land in my mailbox. Plus, the possibilities for future issues seem endless. So, what’s next for Boat Magazine? Detroit.

Nancy Smith is a writer and graphic designer. Her work has been published in Paper, The Believer, Seattle Weekly, Resonance, and Communication Arts. She has an M.A. in Media Studies and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. She is currently working on a Ph.D in Communication and Culture at Indiana University. She blogs about books, design, and technology here: More from this author →