Inner and Outer Space: Lalibela on The Moon

Abel Tilahun

Jun 20 - Oct 21, 2020

Biete Medhane Alem 2, Digital print, 2020

The Washington Post calls Abel Tilahun “a futurist who works in sculpture, photography and video, inspired by architecture and outer space.” Inner and Outer Space: Lalibela on the Moon marks the occasion of the annular solar eclipse taking place in Lalibela, Ethiopia on June 21, 2020. Often called a “ring of fire eclipse,” an annular eclipse occurs when the new moon moves directly in front of the sun (and to prevent eye damage should only be viewed through solar eclipse glasses). The exhibition will physically open at the Ethiopian Space Science Society event on location in Lalibela on the eve of the eclipse, June 20, 2020, thereafter made available for a socially-distanced global audience online at

Biete Gebriel-Rufael 1, Digital print, 2019

Biete Gebriel-Rufael 2, Digital print, 2020

Lalibela on the moon, Digital print, 2019

Biete Medhane Alem 1, Digital print, 2020

Biete Mariam, Digital print, 2020

Inner and Outer Space: Lalibela on the Moon is inspired by the 12/13th century monolithic architecture of Lalibela’s Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Churches, considered the eighth wonder of the world. These 11 medieval churches were carved out of rock during the reign of King Lalibela, who set out to construct them as a “New Jerusalem” for Christian pilgrimage. According to UNESCO, which classifies them as a World Heritage site, “the churches were not constructed in a traditional way but rather were hewn from the living rock of monolithic blocks. These blocks were further chiselled out, forming doors, windows, columns, various floors, roofs etc…Biete Medhani Alem, with its five aisles, is believed to be the largest monolithic church in the world, while Biete Ghiorgis has a remarkable cruciform plan.”

Biete Debre Sina, Digital print, 2019

Biete Amanuel, Digital print, 2020

Biete Medhane Alem 3, Digital print, 2020

Biete Abba Libanos 1, Digital print, 2020

Through his artwork, Abel Tilahun explores how monolithic architecture carves out and activates spaces. These inner spaces of grandeur have the ability to shape and define one’s internal aspirations. These works imagine monolithic architectural practice applied to the rock face of the moon. While previous designs for lunar settlements rely on additive construction methods that would require massive importation of materials from Earth, or more invasive practices of mining and repurposing, this project considers the monolithic carving practice demonstrated in the Lalibela churches as a low-impact technique for constructing enduring and inspiring architectural spaces on the face of the moon. These works draw on and artistically manipulate NASA archival images in order to expand the cultural imagination of outer space beyond an American-dominated one, envisioning lunar settlements through a uniquely Ethiopian lens.

Abel Tilahun


Born and raised in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, Abel Tilahun earned his BFA in Sculpture from Addis Ababa University’s Alle School of Fine Arts & Design. He earned his MA in Fine Art from Adams State University in Colorado, and is currently pursuing his PhD in Creativity at University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He has taught as an adjunct professor at American University and Marymount University in the DC metro area. Abel’s notable exhibitions include the solo show Vital Signs at the Katzen Museum at American University in Washington, DC (2018), and the group show Curvature of Events shown at the New Master's Gallery of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden in Germany (2014) and the National Museum of Ethiopia (2015), all curated by Meskerem Assegued. Inner and Outer Space was first shown as Abel Tilahun’s sixth solo exhibition at Adams State University’s Hatfield Gallery from November 12 – December 12, 2019. In 2016 Abel was one of ten artists longlisted for the Financial Times OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices award for visual art. He is a proud member of the Ethiopian Space Science Society.

Biete Abba Libanos 2, Digital print, 2020

Biete Ghiorgis 1, Digital print, 2019

Biete Ghiorgis 3, Digital print, 2020

Inner and Outer Space: Lalibela on the Moon makes up a component of Abel Tilahun’s film-based research towards a PhD in Creativity at University of the Arts in Philadelphia. His research investigates the intersection of artistic practice and space exploration within NASA and Ethiopian history and contemporary activities. Lalibela holds a notable place within Ethiopia’s space trajectory, as both the purported site of a medieval astronomical observation deck and the slated home for a future state-of-the-art observatory.

Inner and Outer Space: Study 1, mixed media on paper, 2019

Inner and Outer Space: Study 2, mixed media on paper, 2019

Biete Ghiorgis 2, Digital print, 2019

Join mailing list - send message

More about Abel Tilahun