Archaeological discoveries suggest that Nigeria's artistic traditions date back more than 5,000 years. The sculptures of ancient Nigeria were mainly in bronze and other metals, wood and baked clay known as terracotta. Wood carving is the most common form of artistic expression, especially among those who live in the south. Most often white wood and ebony are used. The ancestral and ceremonial wood carvings of the Benin, Ibo, Ibibio and Yoruba and the ivory carvings of Benin craftsmen are among the most beautiful works of art.

Nigeria is well known for its rich variety of traditional textiles, including embroidery, weaving, adire (tie-dye) and silk-screen printing. Adire is traditionally associated with the Abeokuta, Ibadan and Osogbo. Modern designs using Adire are found in other states in Nigeria. Leatherwork, metalwork, glass beadwork, raffia and grass weaving, and calabash carving (a calabash is a type of gourd) are popular in different parts of Nigeria.

Nigerians have developed special musical instruments to suit different occasions. The Yoruba bata, various stringed instruments, drums and horns are used all over the country. Legends surround the origin of many musical instruments. Chief, Commander, Cardinal, King, Prince, and Knighted Sir are some of the titles given to innovative musicians in Nigeria. The Ibo-dominated highlife, the Yoruban juju and fuji, traditional Hausa court drummings and Afro-beat originated in Nigeria.
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Nok terracotta sculptures date back 2,500 years. The Nok culture, centred on the Jos Plateau in northern Nigeria, was the first human civilization to smelt iron.

Nigerian folk theatre has a long history. Modern Nigerian theatre started with the opening of the Ogunde Theatre in 1944. Theatre productions include biblical stories, comedies, political satires and protest plays.

Nigerian writers may use indigenous languages or English. Some Nigerians have gained world recognition, including Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi, Amos Tutuola, Flora Nwapa, Elechi Amada, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and Wole Soyinka.

Chinua Achebe is one of the best-known writers in Africa. He has written about the effects of colonial rule on traditional ways of life. Things Fall Apart, his first novel, is highly respected, and Anthills of the Savannah is widely available in North America.

Wole Soyinka, who has written poetry, plays, novels, and non-fiction books, was awarded the Nobel prize in literature in 1986. His book, A Shuttle in the Crypt, is about his 25 months in solitary confinement after his arrest and imprisonment by the military government in 1967.