The seeds of Unit 21 Consulting were planted in a Dubai in late 2008 when the founders Asmaa Al-Shabibi and William Lawrie met at a gallery opening at one of Dubai’s newly established galleries in the industrial district.
At the time they were each both in leading roles in the region’s two most influential commercial art institutions: Asmaa was Managing Director of Art Dubai and William was Director of Contemporary Middle Eastern Art at Christie’s.
After three years they joined forces to establish Lawrie Shabibi, now a leading art gallery, and in 2016 they established Unit 21 Consulting due to the demand from their clients for a full consultancy service.
Asmaa Al-Shabibi, co-founder of Unit 21 Consulting, leads the Dubai office. She holds an LLM from London University and an LLB from Bristol Univesrity. She trained and practiced banking law in the London and Singapore offices of Allen & Overy, one of the world’s leading international law firms, working with clients such as Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley. A lover of art and design at an early age (she spent most of her childhood designing and redesigning her bedroom) Asmaa’s career took a different turn when she moved to Dubai and joined Art Dubai in 2007. She was the Managing Director of Art Dubai from 2007 to 2010, initiating the Abraaj Capital Art Prize and overseeing the fair’s initial stages.
Asmaa has participated in panel discussions in London and Dubai (such as at the Art Business Conference) and has provided a commentary on the UAE art scene for publications including Modern Portraits, Blouin ArtInfo, The Art Newspaper and The National Newspaper.
William Lawrie, co-founder of Unit 21 Consulting, leads the London office. He was formerly director of Contemporary Middle Eastern Art at Christie's and holds a First Class MA in History of Art from Edinburgh University, specialized in Islamic Art. William was the first auction house specialist to hold such a role and instigated Christie's auctions in this field, putting together the first nine Christie's auctions in Dubai between the period 2006 to 2010, which together sold $100 million of modern and contemporary art. These auctions are often cited as the catalyst for commercial and institutional interest in this field. An early devotee of ancient art and antiquities, William’s interest in the Middle East contemporary scene was sparked when he unwittingly attended a music venue that doubled as a major visual arts centre, in the year that he was studying Arabic in Cairo. After joining Christie's Islamic art department in 2004, he persuaded the company to let him explore Middle Eastern contemporary art and has never looked back.
William has participated in talks and panel discussions in Cairo, London, Istanbul, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Dubai and provides a commentary on the Middle East art market for international publications including the Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph, The New York Times, Le Monde, Le Figaro, and The Art Newspaper. He is the Middle East consultant for the Fine Art Fund, regularly conducts auctions for charitable organizations and non-profits and has held a course on classic Islamic art for Art Experts+ in Dubai.