In a "dream come true", Waipukurau photographer Vivienne Haldane has six images she took 26 years ago on display as part of a major exhibition at Te Papa in Wellington.

Her black and white photos now prominently feature as 2m-tall light boxes in the exhibition, Pacific Sisters: Fashion Activists, a retrospective about the legacy of the "ground-breaking" collective of fashion designers, artists, performers and musicians that formed in Auckland in the early 1990s.

"I'd just graduated from Carrington Polytechnic in Auckland (now Unitec) in photography and had met a collective of artists and designers known as the Pacific Sisters. I loved their creativity: they were totally inspiring," Haldane said.

"They were creating fashion that reflected their Pacific Island and Maori culture, way ahead of their time."

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The images were originally commissioned for a magazine that was never published due to a lack of funds, she said.

"Over the years I kept in touch with some of the sisters and we often lamented the fact that these photos had never seen the light of day."

But that changed when she got a call "out of the blue" from Te Papa's Pacific Island curator, Nina Tonga, last year asking if she still had the photos from 26 years ago.

"Growing up in South Auckland, [Nina] had heard about the Pacific Sisters' work. She saw some of those black-and-white images of the Pacific Sisters on my website, and the sisters told her of this body of work we did."

The exhibition was opened by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the new Toi Art Gallery at Te Papa last month, and Haldane was thrilled to have her images included.

"It's fantastic to see a retrospective of the [Pacific Sisters] work and to view the images in this context. It's a dream come true," she said.

• The Pacific Sisters exhibition runs at Te Papa's Toi Art Gallery until July 8.