Video Cubano, a program of 31 works by 22 Cuban video artists around the world, premiered in New York last week in a private exhibition and screening. A private initiative of art collectors Shelley and Donald Rubin, Video Cubano was curated by a five-person jury that included Corina Matamoros, Curator of Contemporary Cuban Art at the Museo de Bellas Artes, Havana; Noel Smith, IRA Curator of Latin American and Caribbean Art at the University of South Florida; Alberto Magnan, Co-Director of Magnan Metz Gallery in New York; Ben Rodriguez-Cubeñas, Program Director of the Cuban Artists Fund at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; and Rachel Weingeist, Curator of the Shelley and Donald Rubin Private Collection.

Video Cubano was prompted, in part, by the announcement last June of YouTube Play: A Biennial of Creative Video. Although billed as international, the Guggenheim-YouTube project barred residents of U.S.-sanctioned countries—including Cuba—from participating. “Video Cubano was born after my most recent trip to Havana this past June, where I was able to view a lot of really impressive videos within a short period of time,” said Weingeist. “I saw that we could help fill the gap for the Cuban artists [who were shut out of YouTube Play].”

Videos selected for Video Cubano include works by established artists such as Alexandre Arrechea, Ángel Delgado, and Lázaro Saavedra, by younger artists starting to attract international attention, such as Glenda León and Adonis Flores, and by emerging artists like Analía Amaya and Hamlet Lavastida. More than two-thirds of the videos run less than four minutes in length, with half of those coming in under two minutes; only one work, Jorge Luis Marrero’s I Like America, America Likes Me (2008) broke the 30-minute mark.

Many of the shorter videos opt for humor, albeit on the dark side. Pueblo en General (2010), a stop-action animation by Ángel Ramirez, stars a disembodied clay head, exquisitely sensitive to every bump or color change in its boxlike environment. In Llama eterna (2009), Adonis Flores nonchalantly fries a couple of eggs over the eternal flame of a military monument, while Maikel Lorenzo Pimental Marrero’s Top Secret (2007), only 22 seconds long, takes an even more irreverent approach to military matters, depicting two armored tanks copulating.

Luis Garciga’s Ping pong (2006) records a young man playing the game in his kitchen, hitting the ball against a brick wall revealed by the open door of his ancient, sparsely stocked refrigerator. On a more poetic note, Garciga’s Reflections From a Lake By the Side of the Road (2007) offers a few moments of Zen tranquility, shattered by a sly editorial juxtaposition.

The earliest work in the program, Ángel Delgado’s 2002 Gotas, como dias, documents a live performance by the artist, as does Geandy Pavon’s 2010 Anaké: el heroe y las Moiras. Ernesto Lea’s Diglosia (2010) consists of a lengthy address to the Cuban government, constructed entirely from individual words taken from signs and wall slogans, and the snatches of street sounds that accompany them.

Among the more provocative works is Jeosviel Abstengo-Chaviano’s Prendas Corpus (Body Garments) (2008), in which anonymous individuals demonstrate various techniques for concealing packages of raw meat and other black-market items on their bodies. “Smuggling meat is a serious offense,” explained Weingeist. “People may be jailed or have to pay a fine if they are caught. This tension and potential danger is enhanced by cropping out or excluding the identities of the subjects.”

The works in Video Cubano will soon be made available for viewing for a limited time on the project website, www.videocubano.org. “Presenting the exhibition online gives these artists an opportunity to show their videos to the world,” said Weingeist, “which is difficult to do in Cuba since approximately 3 percent of the Cuban population has internet access. The videos will be in a low resolution format to make it possible for people in Cuba to view the site.”

In the future, a touring version of Video Cubano might become available. “There has been a lot of interest in traveling and expanding the exhibition, which we will certainly explore with the artists and potential venues,” said Weingeist, adding that a few curators have already come to the office to view the videos—including one of the curators for YouTube Play. “She’s eager to learn more about Cuban video,” said Weingeist. “She told us she hopes to be able to include artists from sanctioned countries in the next biennial.”