Mosaic floor tiles in shades of chartreuse and white. There are two plastic stacked chairs in the bottom left.
©Wendy Gan 2024

The Tiles of Kuching

Wendy Gan

I have a soft spot for mosaic tiles, especially of an older vintage. The floor of my childhood home was decorated with repeating, small, coloured squares. It was eye-catching and a touch hypnotic. But by the early 1980s, mosaic flooring had become passé and everyone wanted glossy marble or ceramic tiles instead. A whole aesthetic disappeared in pursuit of the latest interior decorating fad.

Today, a glimpse of these assemblages of small tiles brings back memories of growing up in Singapore in the 1970s. Seeing such a variety of them still extant in the city of Kuching in Sarawak, Malaysia was delightfully nostalgic and I found myself compulsively photographing every mosaic floor I came across. I was familiar with the gridded and checkered designs (I grew up with versions much like these), but Kuching also had some surprisingly complex patterns and unexpected colour combinations.

No one these days does this kind of tile work. It takes too much time and effort, and the labour costs would be prohibitive, so it was a joy to see so many glorious examples in Kuching. I sincerely hope they will survive untouched and undamaged for many more decades. Once gone, a part of my own past will disappear too.